Endless effort and spin have gone into trying to explain why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 without ever considering that her own baggage, views, and personality had anything to do with it. As I tried to explain long before the election in my book, “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy,” the elites of politics, academia, and the media had sealed themselves into such an airtight echo chamber, they had no idea what the mysterious natives of that vast “flyover country” that they looked down on, literally and figuratively, were thinking.
What they were thinking was that they were fed up to the gills with a double standard that gave the politically-connected a pass for things that would land them under the jail. There were sick of being ignored and insulted for voicing legitimate complaints about how their lives were being adversely affected by leftist policies, disregard for the Constitution, and selective enforcement of laws. They were tired of being called racists or xenophobes or immigrant-haters if they thought the welfare of suffering Americans, such as homeless veterans or people put out of work by illegal immigrant labor, should take priority over solving the problems of everyone else in the world.
And on a visceral level, they were tired of the grating combination of ignorance and arrogance (a trait we’ve recently seen turned up to 11). It’s that condescending attitude of elitists (politicians, Hollywood stars, news media figures, Silicon Valley tech/social media denizens) who are convinced they are the smartest people in the room – so smart, in fact, that their ideas are the only ones that should be allowed to be expressed -- even though the results of their ideas throughout history prove that they don’t have the slightest idea what they’re talking about. They think they know how to run the entire planet, but have fewer practical skills than the average apprentice plumber. The poster boy for this was New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, whose brief, doomed presidential bid was exemplified by his clueless claim that all it takes to be a farmer is to throw some seeds in the dirt, add water, and “up comes the corn.” Down went DeBlasio, and for good reason.
During the Obama years, a lot of young savants with massive egos sailed triumphantly into Washington only to go slinking back to academia after seeing their precious theories shatter on the rocks of reality. Yet since then, they’ve learned nothing and become even more cocksure of themselves and the inevitability of their failed socialist ideas. So what can all those Ivy League hothouse flowers learn about problem-solving from a lowly former Arkansas governor and business owner?
Well, the most important tip I could offer is this: Very big problems are usually not solved with very big solutions. A 2000-page bill or a massive ten-year “plan” like the Green New Deal only creates a whole new set of problems. If you want to turn a problem into a catastrophe, the recipe is simple: just add lots and lots of federal bureaucrats and taxpayer money.
When you have a big problem, Step #1 is to break it down into little problems. Then put someone in charge of each problem who actually knows how to solve it. It takes an experienced, executive decision-maker just to decide which decisions to make and which ones can be safely left to someone else. (This is something that doesn’t require political experience; anyone who’s ever run a successful business knows it instinctively.)
Next comes the hardest part: prioritizing. We’ve all seen executives who are constantly bustling and shouting. They look busy – some people are even impressed by their constant bustling -- but they never really get anything done. That’s because they’re trying to do everything at once, instead of focusing on issues in their order of importance.
I’ll let you in on another secret: the importance of an issue is not determined by how important the people closest to it think it is. You might have to disappoint or even anger people by telling them their pet issue isn’t your top priority. Sorry, that’s part of the job.
I once had a professor of religion who said one of the wisest things I ever heard about management: “Don’t use all your water to put out too small a fire.” If you use up all your resources and credibility overreacting to a small crisis, then what do you do when a big crisis comes along and your fire extinguisher is empty? (We’re seeing this a lot in the media these days when every little controversy becomes a hair-on-fire CRISIS, and every piece of fake news becomes a “BOMBSHELL SCANDAL,” and then gets dropped the second the next one comes along. All this has accomplished is to erode their own credibility.)
Another essential skill is choosing the right employees. If you have important jobs to fill, find people who’ve mastered every aspect of their current job and are happy there, but ready to move up. Someone who wants a promotion because he’s not comfortable where he is won’t be any more comfortable higher up.
You also don’t need an idealistic dreamer who leaps in from academia to reinvent the wheel. Advanced degrees and high grades in school are admirable, but often, real-world experience and common sense are far more valuable. When you need to put out a fire, you call a firefighter, not a Ph.D. in combustion theory. When you’re dealing with violent rioters, you need cops, not sociology majors. And as we’ve learned from the FBI and the Mueller team, you don’t put people in charge who let partisan zeal prejudice the way they do their jobs or deal with the public.
That’s what you should learn on day one of “Leadership 101.” So how come so many of our leaders, and those jockeying to become our leaders, still haven’t learned it?
THE TYPE OF LEADERS WE NEED
We all knew a kid in school who just had to run everything. Remember the classmate who insisted on picking the games you’d all play at recess, where you’d go after school, even who was “in” or “out” of your group? In high school, that kid had a compulsive need to be the leader of every student organization. You just wanted to say, “Hey! You’re not the boss of me!” Whatever happened to those kids? I wouldn’t be surprised if most ended up in government. We certainly have no shortage of people there who think they know how to live your life and spend your paycheck better than you do.
I’m convinced the world is divided into people who just want to live their own lives and those who, for some reason, have an uncontrollable urge to tell everyone else how to live. Unfortunately, to that latter group, the government seems like the ideal place to work, and at the moment, they are getting 99.9% of all the attention from the media. As more of them gravitated toward government, Congress abdicated much of its legislating authority to unelected bureaucrats. Their bureaus grew like kudzu, and so did their regulations with the force of law (but no input from the people.) Then one day, we looked up and discovered we had a crushing national debt and were paying huge salaries to an army of people who enforce how big your soda should be and who couldn’t be fired and who is allowed to come into your daughter’s locker room. That’s when sane people realized that government is the LAST place these out-of-control control freaks needed to be.
The temptation for government to overreach is hardly new. In fact, it stretches back to the beginning of recorded history, and I bet even earlier than that. There’s a story in the ninth chapter of the book of Judges in the Old Testament about Gideon’s son Abimelech, who craved leadership and stature - not to serve the people but to control them and make them serve him. He said, “Give me dominion over your lives, and I will simplify your existence.” Wow, does that sound familiar? It’s basically the entire 2020 Democratic platform. Our government has taken us pretty far down that same road, but does your life seem any simpler -- or just a lot less free?
Anyway, back to Abimelech. He had a very smart younger brother, Jotham, who came up with a clever tale about three trees: an olive tree, a fig tree, and a vine tree. All three were fine trees that produced lots of fruit. All were offered the exalted position of “King Of All Trees,” but all three turned it down. The plant that wanted to be “King Of All Trees” was the bramble bush, a weak plant that produces no fruit at all. Jotham’s point was that only the weak and nonproductive have the desire to rule everyone else. Does that lesson not resonate like a gong right now?
When anyone aspires to a position of power, take a long, hard look. If that person seemingly crawled out of the cradle with an ambition to be President, then beware! Anytime someone talks about “running the country,” alarm bells should sound. No one – not the President, not Congress, no one person – “runs the country” or should aspire to. That’s why the Founders took such pains to divide and limit federal power, and why we need to reinstate those limits that have been blurred in recent years, whether by Presidents ruling via executive order or out-of-control judges legislating from the bench or unelected bureaucrats abusing their power to try to influence the results of elections. If we allow any one person or entity to ignore those limits and assume the power to run everything, we won’t be able to stop them when they run America into the ground.
We should pick leaders who resemble the trees in the Bible story that don’t need or crave power but that have shown they bear good fruit. As it is said, by their fruits ye shall know them. The government has more than enough nuts already.
THE TAIL IS WAGGING THE DOG
When a lie gets repeated so often that everyone thinks it’s true, it’s called “conventional wisdom” – maybe because it happens so often at political conventions. These days, conventional wisdom is that Americans are clamoring for European-style, cradle-to-grave Socialism Lite. Don’t buy it.
Throughout the Bush-Obama era, the media kept repeating “failed conservative policies” until even a lot of so-called conservatives believed it. Well, what a difference a few years make. We tried leftist policies. They resulted in a sluggish economy, depressed job growth, rising income inequality, reduced wealth and opportunities for minorities, rising class and racial divisions, and abroad, a decline in US prestige and leadership and the advancement and emboldening of our enemies, including a terrorist “JV team” metastasizing into a worldwide threat.
Polls began to show that most Americans wanted the government to do less and spend less. In France, where an actual Socialist was elected President, his huge tax hikes crashed the economy and made socialism as popular with the French as cheese in a can. The media were shocked when voters turned right in the next election. They should’ve known that nothing turns people off of socialism like actually experiencing it. (See “Venezuela.”) The elites responded by doubling down on the arrogance, condescension and name-calling of those who dared to challenge their divine right to rule. The people were forced to make their point even more clearly by shutting down large sections of the country with massive protests and demanding their culture and secure national borders back.
It is a shame that we have to keep relearning the hard way that top-down, big-government solutions and leftist utopian fantasies don’t work in reality. Young people can almost be excused for believing in socialism for the same reason they believe in the Tooth Fairy: they are empty vessels who get filled with whatever adults pour into them. We’ve been dangerously remiss in allowing leftists to take over our schools and fill those precious vessels with mental pollution.
But Republicans who promised small government and fiscal responsibility should know better. Instead, too many let deficits skyrocket, stuffed budgets with pork, and became cheerleaders for big government and disdainful toward the very Americans who put them in office. These so-called “conservatives” slammed me in 2007 for not being a “real conservative” because I pointed out problems in the economy that were hurting working people and criticized the lack of oversight of Wall Street’s excesses. Two years later, they wanted to spend $700 billion of our grandkids’ money to save Wall Street from its excesses. They abandoned the government’s rightful role as a tough-but-impartial referee and wanted to use its power to pick winners and losers in the market. Is that “real conservatism?”
The truth is that voters didn’t turn their backs on conservatism, Republican politicians did. Democrats didn’t sweep to power in 2008 by claiming to be government-bloating tax-and-spenders, but by swearing they’d changed and were now fiscally responsible. Of course, once they gave Obama, Pelosi, and Reid unlimited power, voters quickly realized their terrible mistake and gave the House back to the GOP in the next election. But too many Republicans had already squandered their credibility, so when Democrats ballooned the deficit, they could deflect criticism by simply pointing at their opponents’ own record.
From Jefferson’s belief that the government closest to the people governs best to Reagan’s faith in free markets, from low taxes to letting markets instead of government make business decisions, conservative ideas work whenever they’re tried. Before China kneecapped our economy by allowing a pandemic to spread worldwide, we were all enjoying the fruits of Trump’s agenda, which mostly consisted of doing the opposite of whatever Obama did.
Obama mocked Trump for saying we could bring back manufacturing jobs and strong GDP growth, saying that Trump didn’t have a “magic wand.” But the only magic needed was a simple disappearing act: getting government out of the way! Before the pandemic, we had record low unemployment in every demographic, very strong job creation, and regularly set new stock market records. And despite the gloom and doomers claiming that the pandemic would launch us into a new Depression that would last years, the economy began rebounding as soon as the heavy foot of government started being lifted and people were allowed to go back to work.
I expected this because the underlying economy was and is very strong. It took a massive effort and unjustified draconian lockdowns mostly in blue states to throttle it and keep it from roaring back. This is why I can’t quite believe polls showing that Americans are eager to replace Trump with Joe Biden, the “Walking Dead” remnant of the slow-growth Obama years, who has surrounded himself with people who can’t wait to bloat government, raise taxes, spend like drunken sailors, regulate everything that moves, and turn the whole country into a coast-to-coast version of one of the failing cities they’ve run for decades.
Then again, you never know: New Yorkers lived through the nightmare of the Dinkins years, elected Rudy Giuliani, who miraculously saved the city (ignoring Democrats who routinely called him a Nazi and a fascist) and Bloomberg, who continued Rudy’s policies and kept it going – then for some unfathomable reason, decided they were tired of a well-run, successful city that wasn’t knee-deep in garbage, plagued with crime and stinking of urine. So they elected Dinkins’ protégé, Bill DeBlasio. Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it, but unfortunately, they keep voting to force everyone else to repeat the same mistakes with them.
Gandhi once said, "If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today." I think if all politicians really followed the principles they espouse to get elected, all of America would be conservative today. Much of it already is. Look at the 2016 county-by-county voting map (a sea of red dotted by small islands of blue, with people streaming from the blue to red areas in U-Hauls every day.) Even among Democratic Party voters, only 19% identify themselves as “very liberal.” Our biggest problem isn’t that most Americans “are socialists now.” It’s that party leaders and the media are wildly out of touch with most Americans, and they are the ones with the 24-hour PR apparatus known as the news media and social media. It amplifies the liberal side and suppresses the conservative side so much that not only is the tail wagging the dog, but it’s like a Chihuahua’s tail wagging a St. Bernard.
What Americans need is fewer politicians who think they can tell us what to do and more who actually do what we sent them to Washington to do once they arrive there.