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Washington County Republican Party

– Reagan Dinner

February 27, 2018

As many of us have spent these last decades growing old together know, the current times are quite different from the cycles of the past. We have always had partisanship and hotly contested elections, waves of change, and concerns about government solvency and overreach. But we realize today that some more serious fundamental issues are emerging. Our social fabric is being pulled apart. The Parties of old are disintegrating. The demographics and social media are dramatically altering our country’s landscape and what we value. Blaming the politicians and the media make easy scapegoats, but we realize they are symptoms of the fundamental dysfunction and increasing divisions within our American society. The same problems and issues are found throughout the world.

When I was in the Navy, I learned a great deal but the most important concept was the one of having a bottom line out front. Be clear if you want to leave a message that defines what you say and start with it. The unique foundation of our nation was a set of principles and ideas that dictated a way of thinking with values and dignity. How you think about something determines what you think about it. Today with our modern 24 hour partisan media, the way people think is being greatly altered, and our youth being taught to simply search on Google rather than think independently does not speak well for the future. We are subject to fake news and foreign intervention in our processes, because we have forgotten some fundamental lessons of how to process knowledge, and add value to find wisdom.

One of the other things I remembered of the Navy is that I swore allegiance not to our government, but to the Constitution as a set of principles. The distinction is that we as a people are the government, and if we want to shape it, it is up to us not Austin or Washington. The bottom line of how to do that is that we need to think in terms of returning to our fundamental common denominator and organizing set of principles, and maintain a majority that understands them and is willing to stand with them, not for what it benefits individually, but collectively, but because we all have a great stake in the common good. The French Revolution had three principles – equality (the individual), fraternity (the group), and liberty (the balance of the two).

To find the common denominator of an organizing principle that maintains power rests also upon another point the Navy taught. There are four levels of prioritization or importance of issues. The first is strategic. If you go to war, how do you build your public support to maintain it and should you fight? The second is operational, dividing the bigger issue into individual parts. Do you go to North Africa first, or do you go to Normandy, or both? The third is tactical. How do you get the resources to make a success of each of the above operations which are coordinated to the ultimate strategy? And the fourth is techniques, which are smaller but important issues of how do you arrange covering fire within ship or plane formations. So you have mountainous issues and you have mole hills, and it is critical to find an organizing principle that is strategic enough to consolidate all of the operations, tactics and techniques rather than have various tactics and techniques speed the focus of your thought. It is these divisions that the consultants of politics create to put race against race, gender against gender, region against region, economic class against class in order to win elections and maintain power regardless of what happens to the nation as a whole. We have many people telling us what is wrong with our nation. We have very few people telling us how to get well, and it is our fault that we accept the negatives. The bottom line of my thoughts tonight are that the next few years are going to show us a series of crises that are going to cause realignments and the destiny our nation will hold will depend upon what organizing principles are adopted to unify and pull together the component parts.

Does this dominant organizing principle think in terms of a zero sum game giving gridlock, or win/win? Does society divide in parts like groups in a salad bowl greased by toleration and relativity, or unify more completely in a melting pot based on character?

History shows us there are three fundamental powers, economics, politics, and culture. Economics, in current times, is defined as rich versus poor. Politics is primarily defined as right versus left on the size and function of government. They are both interests and your position in life often makes you gravitate to one or the other. The third and in many ways the most powerful of the powers, is culture. Culture is in its fundamental form conscience versus convenience. Do you care about others, about family, about the future and being willing to sacrifice? Or do you only care about yourself and now? This is a very fundamental division and it is one that historically, though unappreciated, has been the bedrock of the fundamental values of our Constitution and of our middle class which gives our society balance.

In The Wisdom of Generations I described this as three cultures that existed within society at any one time. The first is the Rule of Law. It is what we all agree among ourselves must be obeyed. The second is the culture of obligation or responsibility. It is C.S. Lewis’ concept of unwritten law or courtesy, the Golden Rule of Christ, and the Silver Rule of Confucius. It is reciprocity. It is the peer pressure of society that I do this for you with the direct expectation that you do it for me. The stronger this culture is limits the need for government. The third culture is the culture of compassion. It is basically the fundamental belief of almost all great religions and philosophies of refinement of man’s nature. It is that man starts in his youth with arrogance and convenience of self, but over time with life learns the necessity of caring for others and refines his life such that he does not expect others to do the same for him, but lets his action on their behalf define him and his worth. Men care less about themselves and realize that what they love that matters is what they have done for others. It is the culture that creates the character that builds and gives strength to society because each man feels an obligation to others. When religion is diminished in our schools, when convenience and celebrity replace conscience and honor, then this culture is dramatically weakened in each generation. We then rely on the culture of obligation and its peer pressure, which in itself is diminished as political correctness often mocks the courtesies and trivializes the concept of courtesy. This puts us to the Rule of Law as what is our guiding discipline within society. However, even in the Rule of Law, it loses its sense of Justice because it is now thousands of regulations that tell us how to live our lives, rather than our internal codes of conscience. And our own kids learn from our example.

President Reagan called this nature of society, Discipline within Society. He understood that the way you shaped them was to have certain things appreciated. Lady Thatcher describes President Reagan well in that he was successful because he carried the American people with him in his great endeavors and there was perfect sympathy between them. He and they loved America and what it stands for: Freedom and opportunity for ordinary people. But Reagan noted additionally that a nation’s greatness is measured not by its gross national product or its military power, but by the strength of its devotion to the principles and values that bind its people and define their character.

He understood that you have to have the character of culture in order to have economic opportunity or political dignity. Liberty encompasses all powers.

If each of us thus realizes that our common denominator is not an alliance for economic or political interests, but a commitment to cultural conscience and ethics you have a very straight defining line and organizing principle. If this is how you think, then what you think about issues begin to become aligned with those of similar thought. You will not agree on all issues to techniques and tactics, and even operations, but if you agree on the strategic issue of conscience over convenience, you fight for it first, then deal with the smaller issues. 51% matters to instill concepts judged by that set of characteristics and method of thought, it makes many of our current alignments hypocritical in principle and shows us where they will inevitably fracture. Responsibility becomes key and it does not automatically mean sacrifice. Our friend, Congressman Kevin Brady, got much acclaim for the Tax Act that he passed, but few have heard of his much better legislation, the MAP Act, which looked at how to restrain government spending by guiderails over time. There are positive solutions if we look for them and are willing to support those that are positive even in controversy.

With the current budget deal and unrestrained spending, we are committed to eventually having a crisis that will in part force the restructure of society. In many ways, it is not avoidable because historically societies, particularly democracies, go through their cycles. Mark Twain noted that history may not repeat, but that it rhymes, and most other societies show patterns. In the more modern era, a friend of mine, Neil Howe, wrote a book called The Fourth Turning in 1997. He has studied several centuries of history and pointed out that at any point in time, such as we are gathered here tonight, there are mainly four generations. Each of these generations was affected by the current changes in technology and the economics of their era, but the factor that was most important in affecting the nature of each generation was the decline of each generation teaching the next many of its values that gave it character. Our first generation in this cycle was the Hero Generation of the Depression and World War II. We are now on the cusp of the last part of the Fourth Turning each of which were twenty year periods that bought about changes in society. At the end of the Fourth Turning normally institutions have become bankrupt of trust. Leadership is dramatically questioned, and society is divided. The appreciation of the importance of character is diminished and a crisis of some nature emerges that is devastating enough to re-establish an appreciation of character and to bring people back to unity. If such crisis did not occur, character might well have disappeared long ago.

The likelihood of what that event may be can certainly vary with our current politics and international threats, and with our divisions in society, but it is more likely and certain to occur with time due to our economics. Our unrestrained debt, not just the more miniscule of $20 trillion we owe, but the more important and far more significant obligations of Social Security, Medicare, and numerous entitlement programs that quintuple that figure at least, will bring a point that even our Nation’s creditworthiness is challenged by those who loan us the money. The rest of the world has its problems, but even totalitarian regimes like China are highly competitive against dysfunctional democracies economically. They have five and twenty year plans, and we have a hard time agreeing on concurrent 30 day resolutions. The critical problem will be the value of the dollar because eventually the government must either raise taxes, have ever larger deficits that someone must buy, or diminish the currency by printing money and impacting the value of the dollar itself which has very negative consequences on our standard of living.

People talk of a canary in the coal mine as being the indicator of when a change takes place to detect gas. I prefer the story of the Thanksgiving parrot to make a similar point. Upon his uncle’s death, a conservative Christian young man received his Uncle’s parrot who unfortunately was a very salty and crusty bird known for speaking many obscenities. The young man tried every way possible to correct the bird’s behavior, which only got increasingly worse. Finally in frustration he grabbed the bird by the neck and threw him in the freezer. The parrot continued for several minutes with even worse language, and then suddenly got quiet. The young man’s conscience grasped him, and he was afraid he had injured or killed the bird. When he opened the freezer, surprisingly the bird hopped out and gently rested on his arm. The bird said, “Sir, forgive me for my past indiscretions. They were atrocious and I fully realize that, and I am going to be incredibly well behaved moving forward. I would just ask your forgiveness.” The man was obviously pleased and stunned, and started to ask what had brought about such a change when the parrot softly spoke to him and asked, “Sir, might I also ask you, what did the turkey do wrong?”

At some point in the future we as a nation, probably through debt crisis or other events, are going to have our “turkey” revelation of true reality. What turkey causes it may be undetermined, but how we react to it is not. One of my heroes, and one of President Reagan’s as well, was Milton Friedman who noted in his writings that he did not tell anyone what to do. He just put ideas in place in order that when crisis came they would be available. We need to begin that same process now.

You start it with community. Neil Howe noted at the end of The Fourth Turning that when crisis finally emerges the greatest strength that an area can have is its local community. The reputation for ethics and the networking of contacts begin the building blocks of where society regenerates from the bottom up. That is why events like this become ever more important. There are few state level politicians that come without fundraisers, and I commend Glenn for being here tonight. So what impact we can have to the next election defines this area’s influence for its values and for its institutions. This is symbolic of that growing influence and the question of what type Party we need to try and build from the bottom up in these next years in anticipation of our “turkey moment”, I think has been well defined by history.

Since it is President Reagan’s evening, I would go to his speech to the Republican Convention in 1992. He quoted a set of comments by Abraham Lincoln and was attacked by media that it was a questionable quotation because it was not the way Lincoln spoke and there was no direct record. When I heard him say it, I knew that would be coming because I had used the quotation in most of my books and in researching it the best I could find is that it was attributed to Lincoln’s biographer who understood him and tried to put his beliefs into a set of concepts. Lincoln in his beliefs looked to the Founders’ values and had an appreciation of what had to be care in a nation that they had created. So many of these ideas came from the our early leaders through Lincoln, President Reagan looking at them as the most thoughtful way of what a society, and I think a Party, ought to operate. They are in effect I think the essence of conscience over convenience, and if our principles follow them separate quickly false news and biased news from the reality of truth:

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
You cannot build character and courage by destroying men’s initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

                            

                                      

 

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