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Leadership Lessons—Politics

I enjoyed watching much of the Republic Convention last week. I was particularly interested in events outside of the convention hall. My oldest son is a medic in the National Guard. His unit was on standby alert just an hour outside of Cleveland ready to go at a moment’s notice if there was rioting.

When I talked to him early in the week, he said they packed their gear every morning ready to be deployed. In January it appears his unit heads to Jordan. It’s a tough thing for a Dad, but I sure am proud!

The political arena is a mess this year. Regardless of one’s political persuasion, I can’t believe that Donald Trump’s last opponent, Ted Cruz, was given 20 minutes on stage and didn’t even back Trump! I understand his reasoning—but I would have simply declined. This shows I won’t make it as a politician. What a year.

This all intrigues me so I went to Google to find the top three presidents in U.S. history.

No. 3 is Ronald Reagan. He was a leader even as a young man. Starting at 15 years old, he was a lifeguard for seven summers. In those seven summers he saved 77 people! He was just a C student in college before becoming a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Officers Reserve Corps. During the war he was drafted into the Army but his nearsightedness kept him from the frontlines. Instead, he made training films. Sometimes life gives us lemonade!

At age 37, he goes through a divorce. By then he is very popular and is dabbling in politics. Four years later he remarries. In 1951 he makes the non-academy award winning film Bedtime for Bonzo. This turns out to be used against him years later.

Reagan is a strong democrat but leads a movement of “Democrats for Eisenhower” in both of General Eisenhower’s elections. In 1960 Ron gave more than 200 speeches as a “Democrat for Nixon.” The irony is that Reagan campaigned AGAINST Nixon 10 years previously in the race for the U.S. Senate in California.

By 1964, Reagan is co-chair of California’s “Republicans for Goldwater for President.” By now he has fully changed political parties and runs for governor of California in 1966—winning by more than 1 million votes over the incumbent. At that point, California has a $200 million deficit and Reagan immediately proposes a 10-percent across-the-board cut. Very unpopular at the time.

By 1973, Reagan submits a $9.258 billion budget with over a million dollar surplus which gives taxpayers a rebate! It took time, and unpopular decisions, but it worked. That’s leadership!

In the early 1980s, he accepts the nomination for President. In the November election, he won 44 states over Jimmy Carter and is sworn in as the 40th President in January 1981. On March 30th he is shot by John Hinkley Jr. outside a Washington, D.C., hotel.

In August, the air traffic controllers go on strike. He gives them 48 hours to return to work, and then fires those who didn’t. Guts. I remember the issue well!

By the fall of 1982, the nation sinks into our worst recession since the Great Depression. Reagan’s approval rating sinks to 35 percent.

In 1984 he wins reelection by a landslide—winning 49 states. Twenty-five percent of registered Democrats vote for Reagan. Remember, this is less than 18 months after the country disapproved of him.

In the political arena today both parties talk about “Reagonomics” and how their party is doing exactly what President Reagan would do. Amazing.

Our No. 2 top President had a tough start. The story goes at age six he got a new hatchet and chopped down a cherry tree. When confronted by his father, he told his father that “I cannot tell a lie—I chopped down the cherry tree.

Everyone knows the story but not everyone knows this story isn’t true. By the way, he also didn’t throw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. They didn’t have silver dollars back then … nor did they have dollar bills with his likeness on it.

George Washington was a surveyor who didn’t attend college. After three years of doing this he joined the British, yes the British military!

During the Revolution he became the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army—largely because he had previous experience even though he never led a large Army in the field. He still proved himself a leader!

We all have to realize he lost more battles than he won. But he had so many strengths including tactics, rallying his team under fire, helping with the morale of an Army about to be defeated, and knowing what had to be done next in a fighting campaign.

In 1787 he was President of the Constitutional Convention. He was named President and was in charge of the writing of our Constitution.

When he ran for reelection he was unanimously elected and received all the electoral votes. The only President who ever achieved this.

As our first President he goes on to be called the “Father of our Country.”

Which brings us to our No. 1 President of all time. A real loser, wasn’t he? In fact, he only had one year of official schooling! Imagine that. His success/failure story is even worse:

  • He was defeated for state legislature in 1832. Failed in business in 1833. The love of his life died in 1835. Had a nervous breakdown in 1836. He was defeated for Speaker in 1838. He was defeated for nomination for Congress in 1843. He was elected to Congress but lost the re-nomination two years later.
  • He was rejected for land officer in 1849. Defeated for the U.S. Senate in 1854. He lost the nomination for Vice President in 1856. Defeated, once again, for U.S. Senate in 1858.
  • And you think that is bad? Then comes November 19, 1863 at a battlefield. The keynote speaker was Edward Everett—recognized as one of the great orators in American history. Everett gave an amazing, two-hour speech without notes. The audience admired his eloquence and his attention to the facts. All in all, it was more than 13,000 words.

After Everett’s speech another person spoke. You guessed it: It was the person who had so many losses—but was elected in 1860 as President of the United States. Vastly different from the great orator, Everett, this speaker used only 272 words and took less than five minutes to deliver them.

Whenever I go to Washington, D.C., one of the “musts” for me is heading to the Lincoln Memorial. There I read, once again, his Gettysburg Address. All 272 words. As much as he went through, all the losses and issues, he stands tall among all of our Presidents as our nation’s best. Many say that he never realized how powerful those 272 words were. Remember, no there was CNN back then. No pundits who would pick apart every phrase and gesture.

Which brings us back to 2016 and this campaign.

I can’t tell you who is going to win the election on November 8, 2016. After writing this week’s article, it makes me realize that it probably won’t even be in my lifetime when either Donald or Hillary’s success/failure is really known in the scheme of things. After all, if Reagan’s popularity rating can go down to 35 percent … then he can be reelected two years later … who knows what reality of their Presidential term will be years later.

I don’t know how successful he or she will be in the next four/eight years. Something tells me, however, that they won’t make in the top three. I don’t think anyone ever will.

Lest we forget these great words from this great President;

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

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