The Power of Resignation

One of my favorite lines, thus far anyway, concerning Pope Benedict’s surprise resignation comes from Italian parliamentarian Alessandra Mussolini, a really good-looking woman despite being, yes, the granddaughter of the pulchritude-challenged Il Duce.  Much of her facial good fortune owes something to the other side of her family: she is also Sophia Loren’s niece. However, there her genetic triumph both begins and ends. Mussolini is—how to put this gently?—not a genius. For example back in 2003, when the leader of the Italian fascist party abruptly performed a surprise turnaround, denouncing fascism as “the absolute evil,” Mussolini swiftly left that party in disgust.

Now she wishes to share her views on the pope.

“The pope is not any man,” said Mussolini. “He should stay on to the end, go ahead and bear his cross to the end. This is a huge sign of world destabilization that will weaken the church.”

But this pope—after a fair number of career missteps that alienated (a) Muslims, who didn’t like their religious teachings described as “evil and inhuman”; (b) Jews, who didn’t appreciate it when the pope welcomed back into the church an excommunicated bishop who was a Holocaust denier; and (c) virtually anyone who believes pedophiles probably shouldn’t be priests—finally decided that it was time for him to step down.

And who are we to argue with such a sound and reasoned decision at age 85? Far from being a “sign of world destabilization,” as Mussolini so drastically puts it, resignation is actually a sign of modesty, understanding, and humility: a signal by a central protagonist that he knows the world can do without him. It is also a terrific way of stimulating renewal, reawakening, rethinking. In fact, there should be lots more of it—all over the world.

Here, for example, are a few more leaders who should retire asap:

  • Mohamed Morsi. Unlike the pope, there was never any reason for Egypt’s president to run anything more impressive than a red light. He was not what you might call a deep thinker. From the very beginning, even before he rose to power, Morsi was voluble about his views. He believed, for instance that it was “insulting” to conclude that a pair of hijacked aircraft brought down the World Trade Center—or that al-Qaeda-sponsored terrorists were responsible for the tragedy. In fact he suggested convening “a huge scientific conference” to determine the true culprits. (Guess who he had in mind…) Are we surprised by his most recent exhortation to his countrymen to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews”? Are we amazed by his choice of verbiage for those he despises: “bloodsuckers … descendants of apes and pigs”?
  • Vladimir Putin. The oligarch Mikhail Khordorkovsky: jailed since 2005 for opposing Putin. The dissident Sergei Udaltsov: placed under house arrest on Sunday and forbidden all phone calls. Two women from the band Pussy Riot: serving a two-year sentence in a prison camp. Their offense: performing a punk prayer at Moscow’s main cathedral, during which they begged the Virgin Mary for deliverance from Vladimir Putin. Enough said.
  • Benjamin Netanyahu. I’m not saying all of Israel’s problems would be solved by Bibi saying bye-bye. But it’s pretty obvious that whatever political allegiance he used to command is now ebbing. Fast. Hence his decision to court the ultra-Orthodox, a group whose members eschew military service and contribute nothing to the economy. Also, when you have a guy like Yair Lapid as your main rival, a guy whose true beliefs and national vision are subjects of impenetrable mystery, you know it’s time to pick out a retirement community. No one likes Netanyahu—it’s just one of those things: not Barack Obama, not Palestinians, moderate or otherwise, not his two ex-wives, and now not a lot of Israeli voters.

Quitting is good, in other words. One wishes it were catching. Then there would be a lot more of it around.

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