Once Again, It’s About Leadership. And Character.

By Joe Sweeney

Well, another election season is on our doorstep. It’s this time of the election cycle when politics becomes a bit personal for me. My Dad was an elected official—the last elected Jackson County Assessor, back in 1968. Though an effective team player, Dad’s party feared him a bit because he saw the Jackson Countians who elected him as his top priority.

The late Jim Nutter, a big wheel among Democrats, attem-pted—without success—to suggest otherwise. He told Dad that, no, the assessor’s office couldn’t bring a lawyer of its own onto his staff. Dad simply told him to talk to his attorney about it.

I was raised a Democrat, but, as Ronald Reagan would famously declare, “I didn’t leave the party; the party left me.”   Reagan had me at “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!” (June 12, 1987). Michelle and I were in Munich shortly after—the tension was noticeably thick in eastern Germany but appreciation for America was high.

Those words, like so much about Reagan’s world view, were grounded in American principles of democracy, patriotism and  the belief that public officials served the people first. Not many of them operated in that mode back then; fewer still today.

One who did was Jack Danforth, the former senator from Missouri. I’m glad to see him standing up independently in recent election commercials in support of Missouri Stands United. The ideology is superior, though I have a hard time believing it will catch on any time soon. It appears modern progressivism—don’t call it liberal, because it’s anything but—is running rampant. We must get back to the basics and insist that every school-age student learn the Constitution. And maybe mandate that each elected official be trained in a neutral program about the virtues of the Constitution and their oath to the commonwealth.  

Somewhere along the line, the majority of politicians become part of an exclusive club working on behalf of their party’s interest—and usually, their own. I can’t think of many who shouldn’t immediately be replaced.

In a matter of days, voters across the nation will render judgment on members of the U.S. House, roughly one-third of the U.S. Senate, the performance of state legislatures and governors, and more. Missouri and Kansas will be among the states voting in primary elections on Aug. 2, and again in the general elections in November.

From what we’ve seen in early voting in other states, “judgment” might be the wrong word to describe voters’ motives this time around. “Punishment” might seem more appropriate. And fitting.

We hear a lot about a red tidal wave coming in November, one that will sweep Republicans into control of the legislative branch in Washington. I’m not so certain, given the way House seats have been configured to keep incumbents coming back to the trough every two years. The House might see a big shift to the GOP, but it might also be a narrow split in favor of Republicans this time around.

The Senate, too, is a reflection of a Red State/Blue State America, and from what we’ve seen over the past generation, we can probably count on something closer to a 50-50 division again there, as well. Certainly not a 60-40 national mandate for change.

In an America this sharpy divided politically, that’s to be expected. 

But I’m left to wonder. Why is so hard to see a way out of this?

The root causes of so many of the current conditions, the one that have many small businesses struggling, most investors deeply discouraged and many families absolutely crushed financially, can be traced in a direct line to decisions by the elites who believe they know better than everyone else. That’s not an entirely political statement: Bipartisanship, or what passes for it, has given us a $30 trillion bill that will be coming due for younger generations of Americans. The leadership of both parties bears the full responsibility for that.

Neither party is the voice of fiscal responsibility, and that’s been the case going back 20 years or more, to the last time we actually had a balanced federal budget.

Can this all be fixed? I’m talking about the inflation, the price of energy, the misguided foreign policy that has not just the U.S., but our friends in Europe, dreading what’s to come.

Well, if history is a guide, yes. Yes, it can. But you have to take off the political blinders and look at what worked more than 40 years ago, when Americans were being scourged with the same economic and policy lash. Unfortunately, too many working-age Americans today weren’t even alive when that happened.

I’m reminded of all this after a good friend recently sent me a clip of President Ronald Reagan’s farewell address in 1989. We’ve excerpted a key passage from that below (but Google and read the whole speech). 

Were this not America, I’d say the situation is nearly hopeless. History, though, and President Reagan’s example teach us that hope—with a generous application of sheer will—can change the direction of a ship so badly off-course.

It’s my hope that as voters head to the polls, they’ll set aside some of the petty divisions that have been stoked over recent years, and focus on bringing to office people who have, as President Reagan said, “great ideas” to pursue. 

Responding to Reagan’s farewell address (and especially the final three paragraphs on the opposite page), one person in that email chain asked one very important question: Who will lead?


Excerpts from Ronald Reagan’s Farewell Address to the nation, Jan. 11, 1989:

Back in 1980, when I was running for president, it was all so different. Some pundits said our programs would result in catastrophe. Our views on foreign affairs would cause war. Our plans for the economy would cause inflation to soar and bring about economic collapse. I even remember one highly respected economist saying, back in 1982, that “The engines of economic growth have shut down here, and they’re likely to stay that way for years to come.’’ Well, he and the other opinion leaders were wrong. The fact is, what they called “radical’’ was really “right.’’ What they called “dangerous’’ was just “desperately needed.’’

And in all of that time I won a nickname, “The Great Communicator.’’ But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation—from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan Revolution. Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.

Common sense told us that when you put a big tax on something, the people will produce less of it. So, we cut the people’s tax rates, and the people produced more than ever before. The economy bloomed like a plant that had been cut back and could now grow quicker and stronger. Our economic program brought about the longest peacetime expansion in our history: real family income up, the poverty rate down, entrepreneurship booming, and an explosion in research and new technology. We’re exporting more than ever because American industry became more competitive and at the same time, we summoned the national will to knock down protectionist walls abroad instead of erecting them at home.

Common sense also told us that to preserve the peace, we’d have to become strong again after years of weakness and confusion. So, we rebuilt our defenses, and this New Year we toasted the new peacefulness around the globe. Not only have the superpowers actually begun to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons—and hope for even more progress is bright—but the regional conflicts that rack the globe are also beginning to cease. The Persian Gulf is no longer a war zone. The Soviets are leaving Afghanistan. The Vietnamese are preparing to pull out of Cambodia, and an American-mediated accord will soon send 50,000 Cuban troops home from Angola.

The lesson of all this was, of course, that because we’re a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours. And something else we learned: Once you begin a great movement, there’s no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.

Countries across the globe are turning to free markets and free speech and turning away from the ideologies of the past. For them, the great rediscovery of the 1980s has been that, lo and behold, the moral way of government is the practical way of government: Democracy, the profoundly good, is also the profoundly productive.

… Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: “We the People.’’ “We the People’’ tell the government what to do; it doesn’t tell us. “We the People’’ are the driver; the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world’s constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which “We the People’’ tell the government what it is allowed to do. “We the People’’ are free. This belief has been the underlying basis for everything I’ve tried to do these past eight years.

But back in the 1960s, when I began, it seemed to me that we’d begun reversing the order of things—that through more and more rules and regulations and confiscatory taxes, the government was taking more of our money, more of our options, and more of our freedom. I went into politics in part to put up my hand and say, “Stop.’’ I was a citizen politician, and it seemed the right thing for a citizen to do.

I think we have stopped a lot of what needed stopping. And I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.

About the author


Joe Sweeney

Editor-In-Chief & Publisher


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