As a kid, one of my favorite stories was the one about George Washington cutting down his father’s favorite cherry tree. According to the famous legend, when George was about six years old he wielded his new hatchet to enthusiastically chop down just about anything in sight.
His biggest accomplishment was chopping down a beautiful cherry tree, much to his father’s dismay. When confronted about this, young George hesitated but said, “I cannot tell a lie. I’m the one who cut down your cherry tree.”
Rather than punishing George for destroying the cherished tree, his father said his son’s honesty was worth more than a thousand trees. The story displayed a lesson in integrity and accountability, showing the virtues of our nation’s first President.
I still love the story, even though most historians think it is sheer fiction. And I’ve been reflecting on the cherry tree story lately as I see how President Obama and other national leaders respond when confronted with scandals or the negative outcomes of their policies.
When something goes awry with the IRS or the Secret Service, officials often say, “I take full responsibility.” Of course, if such apologies actually meant anything, the officials would immediately resign or be fired. But that seldom happens.
And it seems President Obama is the least accountable person in our nation’s capital. After six years in office, administration officials still give the impression that the country’s economic malaise is the fault of George W. Bush or the Republicans in Congress.
And when Syria and Iraq were overrun with ISIS terrorists he once likened to Al Qaeda’s “JV team,” did President Obama take any responsibility? Not at all. Instead of shouldering any blame for the fiasco, the President explained Iraq’s downfall as the fault of National Intelligence Director James Clapper.
Not surprisingly, the intelligence community didn’t like being thrown under the bus by the President. As more of the facts came out, it became clear that Obama had been warned about the rise of ISIS for over a year. Yet he chose to ignore the warnings until there was a public outcry when ISIS started beheading people on video.
Do you see why I’ve been reflecting on the old cherry tree story? If it had been Barack Obama cutting down the cherry tree instead of George Washington, what would his response have been when confronted with the evidence?
“I cannot tell a lie,” Obama might begin. “It was James Clapper who cut down the cherry tree.”
Although the story about George Washington might be a fabrication, it reflected a commonly held view about his honesty and accountability. However, it’s hard to imagine any legends like this developing about our current President. Nothing is ever his fault. He is never the one to blame. There is always some explanation to let him off the hook and blame someone else.
But before we get too agitated about the lack of character in the oval office today, we each need to reflect on our own lives. Are we more like George Washington or Barack Obama?
If we are more like President Obama, we will want to take any credit, but never any blame. Yet that’s not true leadership. We need greater integrity than that—first in our own lives, and then in our national leaders.