History will not judge our endeavors--and a government cannot be selected--merely on the basis of color or creed or even party affiliation. Neither will competence and loyalty and stature, while essential to the utmost, suffice in times such as these.
For of those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us--recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state--our success or failure, in whatever office we may hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions:
First, were we truly men of courage--with the courage to stand up to one's enemies--and the courage to stand up, when necessary, to one's associates--the courage to resist public pressure, as well as private greed?
Secondly, were we truly men of judgment--with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past--of our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others--with enough wisdom to know that we did not know, and enough candor to admit it?
Third, were we truly men of integrity--men who never ran out on either the principles in which they believed or the people who believed in them--men who believed in us--men whom neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust?
Finally, were we truly men of dedication--with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest.
Courage--judgment--integrity—dedication . . .
JFK and his speechwriter Ted Sorensen were educated in the classics; JFK from Harvard and Ted Sorensen from the University of Nebraska. Both disparate institutions knew the value of educating on virtuous traits of character highlighted in Aristotle’s ethics of which this speech resonates. These words lift even today because they are based on that which is timeless.
Uplifting rhetoric isn’t just for abstract concepts. Consider JFK again in his 1962 speech to Rice University in Houston:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win . . .
Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, "Because it is there."
Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
All great political leaders inspire. This from Ronald Reagan:
There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.
We pine for such uplifting talk of enduring values and high achievements. We forgot how much can be achieved when we raise our voice. We forgot how important the timeless and sublime are to our republic. Why have we forgotten? Our leaders today are both intentionally and unwittingly following the ideology and tactics of Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals.
I’ve read Rules for Radicals and was puzzled that so many in leadership today adhere to his debilitating ideology. Alinsky started as a Chicago community organizer in the 1930s and, in the 1960s, inspired Vietnam-era Boomers to revolt and protest. One he inspired was Wellesley College political science major Hillary Clinton who based her 1969 senior thesis on Alinsky's work. President Obama was heavily influenced by Alinsky in his Chicago community organizing efforts as well as, on the other side, Dick Armey and recent TEA Party candidates.
Alinsky disciples use a divisive lens to view the world that economically splits all citizens into Haves and Have Nots and politically splits all into Oppressed and Oppressor. His tactics are now, unfortunately, across today’s political spectrum and mandate permanent conflict against your targeted group. The methods to induce conflict include ridicule, highlighting the negative, and personalizing institutional attacks. Alinsky openly admired, “. . . the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer.” Since the 2006 congressional election, important actions occurred by establishing conflict against targeted groups and using both the Alinsky ideological lens and his tactics.
The lens of Haves versus Have Nots motivated Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to dramatically shift the course of our economic history by launching a vast trillion dollar expansion of subprime housing. Representative Barney Frank resisted administration calls for restraint for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The new congress also pushed through the most massive stimulus since the Great Depression, a $300 billion redistribution of cash. In 2009, Obama’s new Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously remarked ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’ and doubled down on the Haves versus Have Nots policies with an even greater stimulus.
The lens of Oppressed versus Oppressor are manifest in everything from immigration to welfare reform to race. This lens was highlighted by President Obama in early 2009, when fully two-thirds of the country believed that race relations were good – a historic high, when he inserted himself into the unfortunate arrest of a black Harvard professor. Again and again, from the Travon Martin tragedy to Ferguson to Baltimore and even to Colin Kaepernick, President Obama highlights the divisive aspects of race.
President Obama used the Alinsky lens again when, in 2012, he issued an Executive Order altering Welfare Work Requirements ostensibly to help the poor. I don’t like Executive Orders. In other eras and countries they would be called diktats. Again the justification was the same Haves versus Have Not and Oppressed versus Oppressor lens. Many of the speeches start with conflict and, if a specific target can’t be found, use the tactic of setting up an Oppressor strawman for ridicule and outrage.
Does anyone feel uplifted to heights of greatness by such speech? What of the results? If one proposes to help the Have Nots and Oppressed then the results should show success. The results of the permanent conflict pitting Americans against each other and acting on the Alinsky lens and tactics: subprime loans increased from 4% to 8% in 2007-2008 and resulted in the Great Recession. Home ownership, the goal of Freddie and Fannie, is down. The 2007 and 2009 stimulus did nothing to stem the tide of economic stagnation and millions stopped looking for work. Violence continues to escalate at places like Queens, Dallas, and Baton Rouge. Only 37% of the country now feel race relations are good – the lowest since Eisenhower was president. Twenty million more are on food stamps and homelessness, in such places as San Francisco and Seattle, has reached unprecedented levels.
What of Chicago? I recently watched the Spike Lee directed movie, Chi-raq. I wanted to download a movie to my Kindle for an overseas flight and was drawn to the description of Chi-raq: a modern day take on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Lysistrata is an ancient Greek comedy where the women of Athens and Sparta end the Peloponnesian War by going on a sex strike until the men make peace. What struck me most about the movie was the beginning that showed data indicating there were more murders in Chicago than combat deaths during the same timeframe in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. After eighty years of the Alinsky ideology from Alinsky himself, Clinton, Obama, and Chicago’s mayor, Obama’s acolyte Rahm Emanuel, it’s fair to say the Alinsky lens and tactics fail those it purports to help. The endless tactic of pitting Americans against each other and blaming doesn’t get it done.
In 1983 President Reagan addressed the National Conference of the National Federation of Independent Business shortly after the 1970s foray into redistribution with its attendant decline and depression. His speech reflect the burgeoning and unexpected 1980 – 2006 American Renaissance:
America is getting well. She’s growing strong. And, together we’ll keep her free. Looking at you I get a lump in my throat… Small business is the gateway to opportunity for those who want a piece to the American Dream... The character and conscience of small business built this nation. You know, in his book Wealth and Poverty George Gilder wrote something about entrepreneurs that I’ve long believed. He said that most contribute far more to society than they ever recover. And most of them win no riches at all. They are the heroes of economic life…
After living through the debacle of the late 1970s, I can’t describe how thankful I was to have a real leader inspire. This was what, against all odds, got us back on track. After the end of the Cold War, when I left the Army, I sought to be one of these heroes of economic life. The call to be a business hero is uplifting and is in stark contrast to President Obama’s 2012 comments. Instead of exhorting entrepreneurship, Obama demonized it by parroting a UC Berkeley Professor George Lakoff’s reframing verbiage. “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” So much for morning in America!
The political rhetoric today is degrading and not worthy of the citizens of our great country. We should reject the Alinsky lens and tactics be it from the political left or right. We are better than that. We should raise our voice, act with courage, and defend freedom. We should reach for the sublime. In everything that is important: health care, renewable energy, and economic equality the politicians of both sides did an utter face flop by adhering to the ‘permanent conflict’ of ‘we versus they’ of the failed Alinsky lens and tactics.
All of these great causes presented the opportunity to inspire a great citizenry to unite and that opportunity was squandered. That miss is not just partisan politics; it is a failure to lead America in great causes. By choosing to divide, we have failed to drive consensus in the one thing that Americans yearn for: a call to a higher cause. To my humble readers of this blog and my ‘Good Fight Series’ books: raise your voice to those around you. Never accept being pitted against your fellow American. Lift your voice! Unite! Inspire!