I’ve often written about what I like to call Obama’s leadership leaps. The president has a unique capacity to catch the wave of events, especially controversial ones, and turn them into amazing rhetorical moments in which he teaches and leads people to their higher selves.
Once again in the last two days, I’ve been profoundly moved by the brilliant leadership leap the president showed the world during his visit to Muslim countries. It was the same kind of action he took when he spoke on race during last year’s presidential primary after controversy fomented by his former pastor threatened to deep-six his quest for the Oval Office.
He knows how to do this on the toughest and most seemingly intractable of issues; his sense of timing and tone has usually been impeccable.
That’s why I ask this leadership question today: why in the world does Obama not take the leadership leap when it comes to advocating simple justice for women?
Note that I didn’t say “abortion” or “reproductive rights” or even “reproductive and sexual health.” That’s because when you peel back the layers of the debate about these issues, it comes down plain and simple to competing worldviews about women’s power and women’s rightful place in the world.
The question etched itself sharply into public view last week when Obama issued such a tepid statement in response to the cold-blooded assassination of Dr. George Tiller while that courageous doctor–whose mantra was “Trust Women”–was serving as an usher in his Lutheran church. And indeed, Obama has even failed to acknowledge the lapses in basic Federal law enforcement that might have prevented such a devastating crime–a basic executive leadership action, one would think.
To be sure, the president made a point of signing the Lilly Ledebetter Fair Pay Act his first such act after he took office. It was a grand symbolic gesture that should not go unheralded. Still, he has stated the Freedom of Choice Act is not on his priority list–though during his campaign he said he looked forward to signing it– and his quest for “common ground” on abortion has led him to create a task force rather than stake out his own position as he has done for other issues. In an unusually tone-deaf move in the wake of Tiller’s murder, he appointed someone unalterably opposed to women’s reproductive rights and justice to lead the DHHS Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
In two radio programs I participated in after the Tiller tragedy (Your Call and On the Issues) I was struck by the recurring “does he just not get it?” theme among the panelists, and a budding idea that President Obama should take a tour of health facilities where abortion is performed.
What do you think of that? How would you organize it if so? What other thoughts do you have for how to bring Obama to the place where he’ll take the leadership leap for women as he has so brilliantly and courageously done for other issues?
Please tell me your thoughts by posting in the comments section below. I think it is time for us to take a leadership leap.
GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead. People has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”
As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.