Reagan and the Art of Leadership

Reagan and the Art of Leadership
By Jeffrey Lord
Published 12/12/2006 12:08:40 AM

It was the early 1980s and Ronald Reagan was under assault.

Yet instead of buckling Reagan wound up providing a classic case study in presidential leadership

As President Bush’s Iraq policy and his goal of victory comes under merciless attack from the non-believers, doubters, and skeptics in official and unofficial Establishment Washington, it is worth a look back at how Reagan led America to the land of lower taxes and great prosperity. It wasn’t easy.

While the subject was taxes, it could just as easily have been something else Reagan believed in because his leadership abilities were so frequently on display. But the tax example is particularly relevant today because in recounting this story I have turned for a refresher to With Reagan, the memoirs of Reagan aide and later Attorney General Edwin Meese, currently in the news as a member of the controversial Iraq Study Group.

Elected in a 44-state landslide over President Jimmy Carter, in no small part because of the Democrat’s abysmal handling of the economy that had saddled the nation with double-digit unemployment, interest rates, and inflation, Reagan vowed change. The change was the then “radical” doctrine of supply-side economics, a philosophy that correctly understood that low taxes were the key to a sound and thriving economy.

In retrospect the easiest part of implementing these changes was getting them passed through a Democrat-controlled House. (Republicans, on Reagan’s coattails, then ran the Senate.) The Reagan landslide had gotten the attention of the opposition, and there were in fact votes to be found for the President’s plan even in the belly of liberal Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill’s House. Working the phones relentlessly, aided by a boost in popularity owing to his conduct in a near-fatal assassination attempt, the President’s tax cuts passed.

Reagan proudly signed them into law in a fog-shrouded ceremony at his ranch on August 17, 1981. Then came the hard part.

Federal spending kept going, and the difficulties in roping it in became apparent to the Reagan team, as Ed Meese freely acknowledges. But what was particularly notable was a new discovery that Meese describes this way:

Related to this, on my part as well as on the President’s, was the assumption that everyone on the Reagan team had a similar view of the problems we faced and a similar commitment to solve them, whatever the difficulties. My approach was that we all knew what the President wanted and that our job was simply to go out and do it. But as later became apparent, various members of our team thought otherwise.

In other words, even as the President was suddenly fighting to keep his newly-enacted tax cuts from being upended before they had even kicked in, there were those within his own administration who tried to sabotage his efforts. How did this manifest itself in real terms? Reagan’s own Budget Director, David Stockman, again per Meese, “secretly decided we should give up on the Reagan program. His feelings were not expressed in cabinet meetings, but became abundantly plain as events unfolded. From a fairly early point, Stockman decided it was his mission, not to support Reagan’s tax reduction program, but to maneuver the President into backing away from it.”

Stockman wasn’t alone, either. He was but one member of the so-called “Baker group.” (Yes, of course, that would be Baker as in then White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III, currently of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq study.) Another was Baker aide Richard Darman. Meese points to the book Gambling with History, an account of the early Reagan years by Time magazine’s Laurence Barrett, where confidential memoranda prepared by Stockman and Darman show conclusively that members of the President’s own senior staff had decided for themselves “that tax rate reductions would be calamitous for the economy and (began) setting to work surreptitiously to change the program.”

SO WHAT DID THE “Baker group” do? They had come to the conclusion, Meese says, that the President needed to be “educated” on the failure of his tax-cutting policy, a sentiment that is now rampant in Washington with regard to Bush and Iraq. But how does a White House staffer see to it that the President he is serving is undercut? How does Washington actually go about cutting a President down to size when he has the audacity to go against the (almost always wrong) conventional wisdom?

First, you try and isolate the President. Make as certain as you can that he — and everyone else — comes to believe he is the only person left who believes in his own policy. In the Reagan example this meant that Darman and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, a key member of the Baker group, went out of their way to control the “human and documentary” traffic into the president. In Reagan’s case this meant that supply-side believers like Congressman Jack Kemp were denied access to Reagan. Instead, business leaders who favored a compromise on tax cuts were ushered into the President’s presence.

Then the media was brought into play, as this internal cabal fed stories to favored journalists who hungered for a way to grind their liberal axes against the Reagan Revolution. Stockman even gave lengthy interviews to liberal journalist William Greider for a story in the Atlantic, telling the only too-delighted Greider that “supply-side is just trickle-down” economics, the entire Reagan program nothing more than a “Trojan horse” to give tax breaks to the rich.

The cry was immediate among Reaganites on the staff for the President to fire Stockman. Graciously, he did not — but the only member of the senior staff to urge the President not to fire Stockman was…Jim Baker.

The fat was in the fire, however, and the idea of, again in Meese’s words, “government by leak” really took off. Washington was virtually inundated with stories that the President was the only one in his administration, not to mention Washington, who just didn’t understand reality. For example, there was a story in (where else?) the New York Times that said there was now a “full-scale battle” underway “for the soul of the Reagan administration and the mind of Ronald Reagan,” a battle designed to convince Reagan to give up on his tax cuts. Washington Post columnist Joseph Kraft reported that various members of the President’s own staff were trying to bring Reagan out of his “dream world.” Columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak said the President had “to fight better than two-thirds of his economic team to save his program.”

Writes Meese of the media blitz by the president’s own people against their chief: “Daily stories filled the media, quoting various ‘aides,’ ‘senior officials,’ and ‘advisors to the President’ to the effect that he would have to change his course if the nation was to avert disaster.”

WHAT WAS REAGAN’S REACTION to all of this? He never flinched. Sometimes he used humor to deflect the criticism, repeatedly telling the story of the two boys who were an optimist and a pessimist. The pessimist, he said, was shown into a room piled high with toys, yet within minutes was in tears, having broken them all. The optimist is shown into a room filled with manure and joyfully starts digging. When asked why he’s so happy, the optimistic boy replies that with all this manure “there has to be a pony down here somewhere.” But behind the Reagan humor was the steel of real leadership. “No retreat,” he snapped on one occasion as he was being pressured for the umpteenth time by a staff member. “I will stand by my word,” he insisted on another occasion.

And he did. Believing that policy should drive process and not the reverse, Ronald Reagan successfully resisted all the nay-sayers in Congress, the media — and most importantly, his own administration. The results, as they say, are now history. Reagan was proved right. By 1983 the economy came roaring to life, as, more or less, it has remained to this day.

While this episode involved taxes, Reagan’s leadership qualities were repeatedly on display when dealing with issues that touched his core principles and beliefs. Again and again, whether it was tax cuts, the deployment of Pershing missiles in Europe, preserving the Strategic Defense Initiative or walking out of the Reykjavik Summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan simply ignored the deafening chorus of his critics. These are moments worth remembering now as the rubber meets the road on President Bush’s Iraq policy. As with Reagan, the media is filled with stories that have alleged presidential allies (and advisers to Bush 41) discussing the President they serve or nominally support with an eye rolling contempt. There is no small irony that many of these same people not only advised the Gerald Ford and Bush 41 presidencies to humiliating failure but tried — and failed — to do the same with Reagan, the latter simply refusing to listen to them. As with Reagan there is an attempt to have process (having the Baker-Hamilton group reach “consensus”) drive policy, heedless of whether the consensus is wrong, or worse, as the Iraqi president has quickly realized, “dangerous.”

At the end of all this is the realization of just what true presidential leadership demands: the ability to stick to core convictions on the most important issues of the day — and not retreat under the veritable hailstorm of criticism that follows. It is the one decided pattern that links the presidencies of those considered to be America’s best presidential leaders, from Lincoln to the Roosevelts, from Truman to Reagan.

RONALD REAGAN UNDERSTOOD WHAT it meant to be a real leader. He “got it,” and because he did his presidency, once written off by caustic critics of the day as a failure, is now rated as one of the greatest.

The fate of Iraq — and the future of both America and the West — is increasingly in the hands of one man, a man increasingly being isolated by the media and the Establishment in his belief that only victory will do. Alone like Reagan, one hopes that with his core convictions on the line George W. Bush will remember the trials of Ronald Reagan and the gritty positive attitude that epitomized Reagan’s leadership, a leadership that led to eventual — and spectacular — triumph in so many areas.

It’s worth remembering as well Reagan’s daring view about of the Cold War, a view that sent shudders through the Establishment of the 1980s. It is a view the Iraq Study Group apparently — if typically — refused to consider right from the start.

What was that view?

“We win, they lose.”

Exactly, Mr. President.

Searching for the Gipper


Searching for the Gipper

by Doug Patton


Is there another Ronald Reagan on the horizon for 2008, a leader who can rally the coalitions that gave Reagan an eight-year mandate? Let’s examine (in alphabetical order) some of the most frequently mentioned Republican presidential candidates. Just for fun, let’s create a one-to-ten “Gipper meter.” Ten would be a Republican leader of Reagan’s experience, stature, vision and charisma. One would be Lincoln Chaffee.


Sam Brownback – The young congressman from Kansas who replaced Bob Dole in the U.S. Senate has championed the cause of social conservatism in the upper body of the congress. This has made him a hero among so-called values voters, who find precious few senators from either party willing to fight for their issues. Compared with Reagan, Brownback would rate at least a seven or eight for ideology, but would only get a two or three for experience and charisma, thereby rendering him a mediocre five overall at best.


Bill Frist – The now-retired U.S. Senator from Tennessee has created about as much excitement as a potential presidential candidate as he did as senate majority leader. In other words, he is boring and has accomplished little. His rating on the Gipper meter: two.


Newt Gingrich – The former speaker of the house probably comes closer than anyone on the current scene to living up to the experience, stature and vision of Ronald Reagan, and what Newt lacks in charisma, he more than makes up for in knowledge and debate skills. I would give him an eight on the Gipper meter.


Rudy Giuliani – America’s mayor, as he was dubbed in the days following the 9/11 attacks, is greatly admired for his courage and leadership during that time, and as the man who cleaned up New York City. In stature and charisma, he rates a ten on the Gipper meter. For vision, he would get a five. Ideologically, especially on social issues, he is very liberal and therefore rates a zero in that area. His electability in a general election campaign is probably off the charts. In the primaries, however, he will never make the grade.


Chuck Hagel – The senior senator from Nebraska has so alienated his core constituents by imitating his hero, John McCain, that he probably could not get reelected to his current position, let alone win a Republican presidential primary. He thinks he is a Reagan conservative. Voters will let him know otherwise if he runs for president. He has charisma, and little else, except ego. I give him a one on the Gipper meter.


Mike Huckabee – The slimmed-down governor of Arkansas shares much of Reagan’s vision, as well as his values, but his charisma, experience and stature are lacking. Overall, a three on the meter.


John McCain – The architect of the incumbent protection act (laughingly called campaign finance reform) and of the senate’s gang of fourteen, which prevented the GOP leadership from exercising the constitutional option that would have shut down Democrat filibusters of judicial appointments, the senior senator from Arizona has spit in the eye of the Republican base just once too often. His political experience is strictly as a congressional compromiser. He is irritating and visionless. I would give McCain a two on the Gipper meter.


George Pataki – The governor of New York is Rudy Giuliani without the charisma. A zero on the meter.


Mitt Romney – The governor of Massachusetts is an unknown entity to most of the country. He has the charisma, the experience (Americans tend to elect governors to the presidency) and the vision. If he turns out to be as conservative as he wants us to believe he is, and if he can overcome the fact that he is a Mormon with evangelical voters, he could position himself as the next Ronald Reagan.


Come to think of it, there was only one Ronald Reagan, and we may never see his equal again.


© Copyright 2006 by Doug Patton


Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a political speechwriter and public policy advisor. His weekly columns are published in newspapers across the country and on selected Internet web sites, including Human Events Online, and, where he is a senior writer and state editor. Readers may e-mail him at


The opinions expressed in this column represent those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views, or philosophy of

First Say Nothing, Then Say Thanks

First Say Nothing, Then Say Thanks
By Quin Hillyer
Published 11/22/2006 12:09:10 AM

This being Thanksgiving week, it might be a good idea to abide by the old maxim that if you can’t say anything nice about certain people, then don’t say anything at all. Hence, with regard to the remaining Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives — who just suffered a bad election defeat from a public fed up with their ethics and big spending and, in short with their leadership — who last week ignored the public lessons of the election and obstinately re-elected basically the same leadership team: Please excuse 12 lines of empty space, which is my way of not saying anything at all.

Okay, now, as for the radical leftists who make up the leadership of the majority party in Congress, the Democrats, if I were to take enough space to say enough of nothing about them, it would take a whole page of blank space, maybe more — which is more than readers should have to endure. So let these two blank lines represent the pages of nothing that should be said about the Democratic leadership:

Okay, now we can move on to those things that we Americans have to be thankful for. Our cup runneth over, to such an extent that we as a society probably have become so spoiled that we don’t even realize our good fortune. Nevertheless, among the things for which we should be thankful are:

1. Our heritage of freedom, secured through the mind, character, bravery and foresight of men such as Madison, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Sherman, Mason, and Wilson.

2. The strongest, most abundant economy in the history of the world. Don’t argue, just look at the numbers on unemployment (low), inflation (low), productivity (high), wages (growing), interest rates (low), home ownership (high), home values (high), gas prices (back within reason), securities ownership (high), securities values (the highest Dow Jones Industrial Average in history), average personal net worth (very high), and on and on. Stop whining; just give thanks.

3. Physical security: other than the bizarre anthrax mailings of late 2001, not a single successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Crime rates that by the standards of the last 50 years are low. And no conventionally organized military in the world that can hold a candle to the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces, heroes every one of them by very virtue of volunteering to wear our uniforms.

4. A world with more liberty than at any time in history, which is the modern legacy of Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Thatcher, Walesa, Kohl, Havel, and others (including, let us not forget, Scoop Jackson and political heirs of his such as Lane Kirkland).

5. The kindness of strangers. While government at the local, state, and federal levels still fumbles its response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the armies of private contributors and volunteers, especially through churches, have provided effective and invaluable relief to the people of the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama coasts. (Exempted from the criticism of government, and in spirit included in the praise for private entities, are the U.S. Coast Guard and state and federal Fish & Wildlife departments whose immediate post-Katrina services were awe-inspiring.)

6. Milton Friedman. His 94 years of life ended last week. The lessons of liberty he taught will last for lifetimes. R.I.P.

There. That’s a good list with which to start. The list could and should grow much larger. Take a moment and add your own entries to it. And direct your thanks to the Author of all our blessings, the Father of us all.

Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator. He can be reached at

Proretrogressives and the Last Wake-up Call

Proretrogressives and the Last Wake-up Call

by Erik Rush

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“What’s the point? They’re all crooks.”
     – My father, on voting.

As the U.S. Capitol custodial staff scrubs bloody chunks of the Republicans’ former majority from chamber walls, the more informed among us are left to our (hopefully more informed) conjecture. Have we moved into another dark age of far-Left preeminence, or will the Democrat leadership crash and burn, engendering even more disgust and disappointment in voters than existed two weeks ago, thus turning the tables yet again?

Should the latter occur anytime within the next, oh, two to four years, it is evident that Americans will no longer tolerate Republican politicians who transmogrify into Democrats as soon as they attain a majority; the midterm election was all the proof we need of that.

Q: How do you turn a Republican into a Democrat?
A: Get them elected.

Not any more. And well it should be. “Death to the RINOs! [Republicans In Name Only]” is a call I’ve been hearing a lot over the last week or so in varying forms.

“Proretrogressives”, I believe, is an apt designation for what the Democrat leadership has become – for the moment. A year ago, no one but their base would have voted for them in the numbers they did on November 7. The Democrat leadership figured out that they needed to appear more centrist to retake the Capitol – and it worked. Their international socialist agenda remains the same, however: They will continue to press for suicidal economic and social programs and policies at home, and continue to smooch the buttocks of the likes of Kim Jong-Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other profoundly dangerous enemies of the U.S. – as they have for the last 40 years. The American people will suffer the consequences; they’ve got fat pensions, bunkers and stored food prepared for Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy and their RINO bedfellows.

Perhaps they’ll suggest that America convert to radical Islam en masse. That, after all is the only alternative to annihilation or victory. It is sad that the Democrat majority left to their own devices will ultimately force the U.S. into the position of having to incinerate several million misled souls in order to save ourselves. When we get backed into that corner, someone’s going to start pressing buttons, no matter which party is in charge. We are already in a more precarious position than we were concerning the Japanese threat in World War II; far Left politicians and the media are the reason most Americans are shielded from this fact.

At times like these I’m grateful for my faith. Were it not for that, I might have concluded that the majority of Americans truly are morons and there was little I or the combined efforts of all like-minded could do to stem the tide of socialism and the cult of ignorance that has insinuated itself into the American collective mind.

When I hear Rosie O’Donnell’s pathetically ignorant blather (on ABC’s The View) about not walking through life “afraid of anyone who thinks different than you” and instructing Americans not to fear terrorists because “they’re mothers and fathers,” images of human beings falling from the Twin Towers spring immediately into my mind’s eye. I experience a near-overwhelming urge to leap through the television screen with a macheté. Although I imagine this makes me a “right-wing hater” in the eyes of some, my view is that enemies foreign and domestic are enemies nonetheless, and if the Left is determined to use the First Amendment to destroy America, then the Right deserves a little latitude as well.

Then, again my faith re-affirms itself: Chopping up Rosie O’Donnell wouldn’t solve much in the long run and would only harm the cause in which I believe. It would be a spiritually unsound action, and society severely frowns on such things. Then there’s the bothersome reality of causing myself injury and demolishing my television in the attempt.

I don’t believe that Independent voters honestly fear conservatives imposing a theocracy any more than they believe proretrogressives want to tax us into subsistence mode, enslave us to sensualism, and culturally engineer us into something less than human. The latter is far closer to the truth – but it is the character of swing-voter types not to analyze politics as deeply as affiliated voters. Fifty years of Democrat-fostered failed social programs, economic irresponsibility and state-sponsored cultural subversion were apparently not enough to convince them we didn’t need more of it, despite the substandard performance of Republican leaders over the last few years.

So – a few things have to happen if America is to survive – and the stakes are no less than that:

1. Conservatives have to be prepared to descend upon the opposition with all vigor when their shortcomings manifest, much in the same way the Left has done over the last six years.

2. Republicans voters need to wake up. We must do all we can to get nothing but fire-breathing conservatives nominated in primary elections.

3. Republican politicians need to wake up. If you’re not a fire-breathing conservative, get the hell out of the party. The GOP still has the best fundamental ideas; it’s the culture of self-seeking personal aggrandizement which must be excised from the party. The voters are the only ones who can accomplish this. RINOs can aid them by switching parties or becoming carnival barkers.

4. A grass-roots effort must be made targeting the fifty-percent of eligible voters who don’t vote. The law of averages dictates we’ll get at least 40% of them.

5. Additionally, a grass-roots effort on the part of conservatives must be made targeting people in the inner cities – particularly minorities – who have been steeped in the Leftist culture of victimization, class envy and ignorance. It’s time they learned who’s been whoring them out and give them a real chance to escape their cycle socioeconomic malaise.

6. As far as foreign policy goes, a grass-roots effort on the part of conservatives must be made to inform Americans as to the clear and present dangers we face. If they don’t know – and they won’t find out from Hollywood, Nancy Pelosi or the media – they won’t respond.

By the way: “Grass roots” means people, not lobbyist organizations, 501c(3)s or 527s. The time for timidity has passed. Ripping progressives’ heads off and punting them into the stratosphere at every opportunity in the public arena – figuratively, of course – with superior logic and wisdom must become our modus operandi. Lingering RINO thieves and perverts must be thrown to the lions. We can’t afford them.

Most Americans cannot conceptualize the dark vision much of the world has for us – a vision the far Left either denies or condones. The wake-up call has come. It’s time for true patriots to get to work, wherever they happen to be.



Erik Rush is a New York-born columnist and author who writes a weekly column of political fare. He is also Acting Associate Editor and Publisher for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. An archive containing links to his writing is at . His new book, “It’s the Devil, Stupid!” is available through most major outlets. His new book, Annexing Mexico, is scheduled for release shortly.

All’s Not Well in Donkeyland — And they’ve compounded the problem by making what appears to be an Hispanic affirmative action pick for the new boss of the Republican National Committee (Sen. Mel “Guest Worker” Martinez), and by bringing world-class pork-barreler Trent Lott back into the leadership ranks of the United States Senate, and by keeping the same top two leaders in the House (Rep. John Boehner and Rep. Roy Blunt) who oversaw the November 7th debacle which gave the nation “Speaker” Pelosi.

Folks this isn’t the way.

Well the Dems trotted out the OFD (Old fart democrats). The republicans quicly retaliated by trotting out the OFR (Old fart republicans) . So here we sit at status quo. We need to get tough with the left. Folks this isn’t the way.

Bud Simmons

Welcome to “Survivor: The Isle of Crappy Republican Leadership.”

Vacant Lott

Another GOP Maalox moment

Mel Martinez, RNC chair…Sigh…Oh, well. Michael Steele has been passed up for Sen. Mel Martinez. Yes, a squish on border security is now the RNC chair. Has the GOP learned anything?


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