On Stewardship

It takes its name from the Scottish House of Stewart, the members of which served as caretakers on behalf of the English king, before their house itself became the Royal House of Scotland, but the concept of stewardship did by no means originate with the Stewarts; it was sometimes offered as the spoils to be won in ancient Greek and Roman contests, and I daresay they probably didn’t invent it, either. I imagine as soon as human consciousness developed sufficiently to appreciate that, provided a pointy rock, a stick, a way to bind them together, and half-decent aim, we were pretty much the top of the food chain, there were those who went mad with the power such status confers, and those who felt obliged by that position to be careful and responsible.

And thus began war. But that’s a whole other post.

The latter of the two were stewards, by nature or deliberative choice, assuming the responsibility for taking good care of the property and resources with which one is entrusted, a tradition which has carried on forward, seeing various incarnations of the concept, from feudal stewardship to the environmental movement to modern secular philosophies advocating social safety nets. The concept also plays a role in every major religion*, with God serving as the benefactor from whence earthly resources came to be under humans’ watchful care, imbuing each of us with the responsibility of stewardship. What nearly every manifestation of stewardship bears in common, however, is the sense of such protection over one’s ward having been granted, the steward trusted to protect and care for his charge.

In this way, the American presidency is a stewardship; the very fact that the president is chosen by the people he’s meant to lead signifies the simultaneous ceding and bestowing of power to one who is recognized by a majority as best suited to be entrusted with the vast resource of people, materials, wealth, and power that is this nation. When we vote, we are choosing our steward, which is a distinctly different notion than our leader. The president is that, too, to be sure, but while good leadership often requires quick decisiveness, good stewardship is marked by steady vigilance. A steward is tasked with taking care of the resources he inherits—not exploiting them, nor oppressing them, nor pillaging them, nor in any manner leaving them in a worse state than they were when he assumed the role of their guardian—and such caretaking requires intimate attentiveness, a dedication to both knowing and understanding the resources in one’s care.

George Bush has failed miserably as our steward.

He has been world-famously and unconscionably bad at protecting the environment, whether it’s supporting Orwellian-named initiatives that will result in ever greater pollution of our skies and streams or failing to enthusiastically endorse an alternative energy development plan or endorsing drilling for oil in an Arctic refuge. So thorough is his contempt for a clean and healthy environment, I would be amazed if he doesn’t shit in his own bed and drink toxic waste before pissing in the fishin’ lake on his own ranch. But although we most closely associate stewardship with the environment, he has failed with equal aplomb in his duty to protect America’s greatest resource—her people. Never has this been more evident than in the aftermath of Katrina.

Conservatives are already howling that all liberals can do is blame Bush, and even some liberals are annoyed with what they view as attempts to politicize this tragedy, but in truth, it is vital that we see the scope of this disaster, which will reach far beyond a ruined city, as the inevitable consequence of Bush’s poor stewardship on a plethora of issues. Indeed, the fatal error of leaving New Orleans’ levees in a state that made possible the physical devastation which takes our very breath away is a monolithic mistake that is not solely attributable to one party or another, and cannot be laid at one man’s feet. It was a collective failing, and so I will not lay the blame for it singly upon our current president. It is, instead, the aftermath that will affect all of us, as the water recedes and the fires diminish but their implications begin to reverberate far and wide, and how ill-equipped we all are to cope with those inescapable issues, for which I hold him accountable, as should we all.

A number of Louisiana’s National Guardsmen are in Iraq, fighting Bush’s war of choice. FEMA has been gutted to redirect funds to other areas of Homeland Security, the victim, like so many other federal programs, of budgetary limitations made necessary by a deficit made worse by tax cuts issued during a time of war. Poverty continues to rise and wages for the middle and lower classes continue to stagnate, meaning many of New Orleans’ residents, left without employment or housing perhaps indefinitely, will struggle to survive without help, and leaving many of us unable to help financially as much as we’d like. As energy costs soar as a result of both the devastation of this region, combined with Bush’s appalling energy policy and the war in Iraq, people across the country who suffer from poverty and wage stagnation will struggle, too. And come October, when the bankruptcy bill goes into effect, anyone who loses that struggle will face undue hardships that could have been avoided. Because the GOP-led Congress struck down the proposed amendment which would offer a homestead exemption to those bankrupted by medical bills, how many victims of Katrina (who may rack up healthcare fees either because of injuries or a lack of insurance to pay for existing conditions because of employment loss) will be revictimized by this cruel legislation? Indifference to global warming, resistance to a national healthcare plan, pissing away resources to line the pockets of Halliburton while the economy languishes—the list goes on and on. Bush shirked his responsibilities as our steward, ignoring what was needed to protect America’s natural, human, and financial resources, and now we will all pay the price for his dereliction of duty.

Bush fancies himself a great leader, as do his supporters, but being a great leader isn’t all that’s required of our president. Protecting American’s resources shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but he has made it so, choosing to protect his cronies and, worse, reward them with the resources he’s plundered from the public. When he chose to favor his own interests ahead of America’s, he not only turned every issue in which people suffer because of his decisions into a partisan fight, he also disregarded his obligations of stewardship, and in the end, a leader without stewardship is just a tyrant.


* (Though not every denomination of every religion. Tthe opposing construct to Christian context for stewardship, for example, is Dominionism, adherents of which it its most radical incarnation encourage the rape and depletion of the earth’s resources to instigate the Rapture.)

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