There are two kinds of legitimacy when it comes to political rule. The first is the obvious — when the rules are honored, and the procedures followed. The second is not so obvious, and I want to get to a detailed discussion of it in a minute. But for the purposes of the set up, this occurs when the mojo is just flat gone. By this I mean something far more serious than the ordinary second term doldrums.
In a fair election, and with everything above board, the result is that everybody knows that this person is the president, fair and square. Under normal circumstances, the second kind of legitimacy flows out of the first one — but it does not always go that way.
There is a good argument to be made that Kennedy stole the election from Nixon with some monkeyshines in Cook County. I am not making assertions here, but rather just illustrating a point. If that was the case, then Kennedy became president illegitimately — but was accepted afterwards by the country (and by Nixon) as the legitimate de facto president. Even if he did not have the first kind of legitimacy, he was still given the second kind. We can illustrate it another way by one of the conspiracy theories currently making the rounds. If LBJ had anything to do with the Kennedy assassination, then he obviously came to power illegitimately, but was given legitimacy nonetheless by the general consensus.
But the opposite thing can also happen. Someone can be elected or appointed in a completely legit fashion, but still have the bottom fall out in such a way as makes it impossible for him to govern. This is what David was praying would not happen to him. In his psalm of confession, he prayed that God would not take away His Spirit.
“Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11).
He is not praying that he not lose his personal salvation. In the next verse he asks that the joy of his salvation be restored, not that his salvation would be. What he is actually praying for here comes from the fact that he knew that his predecessor, King Saul, had forfeited his right to rule through his disobedience, and the Spirit was taken away from him. And when the Spirit was taken away, his dynasty came apart in his hands. David knew that he deserved this divine rejection of his rule, and he asked God that it would not happen. He was seeking political mercy.
God is the one who permits and gives the second kind of legitimacy. De facto legitimacy, in other words, is a gift from Heaven. But when it goes, it goes like the whistling wind. There are men who rule like Charlemagne, and there are men who rule like Ethelred the Unready.
What goes for legitimacy also goes for greatness. Some men are given legitimacy, but they are frankly a charisma hole, and their only ultimate contribution is to occupy a space in the memorization lists of future school children. Other men are very competent, but greatness is not given to them. Solomon, for example, was not only given the gift of legitimacy, but also the gift of greatness and majesty (1 Chron. 29:25).
Now it happens that I believe that it is quite possible that Obama did not have the first kind of legitimacy going into his second term. The brazenness of the high Chicago style, on so many fronts, makes me think that the normal levels of cheating that occur in our elections were far surpassed, and were surpassed in ways that affected the outcome of the election. There are many ways to discuss this, but I will use just one illustration because my next point will be that it does not really matter. The IRS scandal — still not properly dealt with — shows that opponents of the president were prevented from organizing in crucial places like Ohio. Had they been permitted to organize, and had Ohio gone the other way . . . you know the drill. So we should all know that Obama cheats like crazy, but it is a matter of debate whether it affected the outcome. But bear with me, and pretend that Obama became president because of such behavior. That doesn’t matter, because he nevertheless entered his second term with his supporters and opponents both accepting the fact that he was president of the United States. And he was and is. Regardless of any cheating, he came in with the second kind of legitimacy. The “powers that be” are ordained by God (Rom. 13:1).
At first, it looked like Obama was going to have a case of the second term saggies, like pretty much all other two term presidents do, but now it is beginning to look like something far more serious might happen. What will happen if a lame duck presidency turns into a dead duck presidency?
Because Nixon was crippled by Watergate, all the work he had done to extricate us from the Vietnam quagmire had to be flown out of there on helicopters. That domestic disaster was directly connected to the foreign policy disaster. Things like this are like grapes; they come in bunches. It seems to me that Obama has to spend whatever capital he has left on presiding over the moon crater of Obamacare. While he stares glumly at that particular hole, if I were an Iranian or North Korean despot with my wits about me, I would figure out in about fifteen minutes that whatever should be done, ’twere well if it were done quickly. In other words, we have all the fixings for a harmonic convergence of disasters and scandals.
What will happen if Benghazi testimony, and the IRS scandal, and Fast and Furious, and the next round of Obamacare insurance cancelations, and war in Asia, and Iraq and Syria and Egypt blowing up all together, and Israel attacking Iran, and that . . . and other stuff . . . all converge on the same intersection at high rates of speed?
Try to imagine Richard Cromwell in charge of the United Federation of Planets in the middle of a Klingon invasion. With Ronald MacDonald as vice-president.