Inspired by Reagan

By WND Staff

Editor’s note: Today, WorldNetDaily runs the second of two excerpts from Katherine Harris’ new book, “Center of the Storm: Practicing Principled Leadership in Times of Crisis,” the first title published by WND Books, a partnership of and Thomas Nelson Publishers. In “Center of the Storm,” the former Florida secretary of state and 2002 GOP congressional candidate, who attracted nationwide attention during the post-election chaos in 2000, combines news-making disclosures and practical lessons in a “how-I-did-it” and “you-can-too” guide for holding up amid controversy and coming out on top.

Today, Harris looks at how Ronald Reagan embodied a key leadership principle she seeks to share with readers. Yesterday, she addressed the charge that she prevented Vice President Al Gore from getting a fair shot in the Florida vote recounts.

Throughout history, the greatest achievements have usually been propelled by an against-all-odds tenacity. The unshakable conviction of the rightness of the cause, of its destined and providential place in the overall scheme of things, has kept adventurers, discoverers and creators going despite overwhelming adversity and fierce opposition.

A study of leadership in America by anyone in my generation would be wholly incomplete without a discussion of Ronald Reagan, who met every challenge with his unbowed determination to stick to his guns. No other single person can be said to have had a greater impact and presence on the American political stage since Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of President Reagan’s heroes.

As one of the rare personalities of our era who literally defined a decade, President Reagan reintroduced a no-nonsense approach to political action with his informed, forceful style, an infectious sense of humor and an overarching charisma. Adhering closely to his simple yet comprehensive and elegant political philosophy, he encouraged a new generation of conservative activists to become politically active, prompting me and a number of my peers to enter the political arena and even to switch our partisan allegiance.

Reagan energized the Republican Party on every level, which resulted in the GOP’s capture of many state legislatures and governorships in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as in the party’s 1994 landslide victory in which it won a majority in both houses of Congress for the first time in four decades. That same year I was elected to the Florida Senate, defeating the Democrat incumbent; this was the first time since Reconstruction that a Republican majority controlled the Florida Senate.

Reagan’s path to power was marked with the dominant traits of leadership. His story is a powerful testimonial to the man from Dixon, Ill., who was born into poverty and who graduated from the virtually unknown Eureka College. Rising from his first job after college as a radio announcer in Davenport, Iowa, to his stature as a contracted actor for the Warner Brothers movie studio, he eventually became the president of the Screen Actors Guild, where he began to challenge the liberal orthodoxy that had already thoroughly infected Hollywood. In a letter to a supporter in the early 1960s, Reagan detailed a conflict he had with a director and studio executives who wanted to remove a film scene that included a child praying. He won that argument (as he almost always did) after getting them to admit that they were devoted atheists who were intent on using the film industry to foist their ideology onto an unsuspecting public. Seldom were his opponents so forthright.

Reagan’s televised speech in support of Barry Goldwater in 1964 turned the national political spotlight in his direction. In his stirring remarks, titled “A Time for Choosing,” he clearly articulated that the battle for America’s soul was a battle for ideas, with enormous stakes at risk. He said, “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”

Though Goldwater lost the presidential election, Reagan identified himself as a man of courageous, countercultural ideas who would be a force to be reckoned with in the future. Only two years later he won a landslide election for governor of California, a job to which he would be re-elected in 1970.

From the outset of his political career, Reagan believed that persistence in doing what he believed to be right constituted the only methodology of leadership. In fact, he personified this principle. Speaking to students at Cambridge University in 1990, he urged them to doggedly adhere to their first principles, whatever the cost. “A leader, once convinced a particular course of action is the right one, must have the determination to stick with it and be undaunted when the going gets rough,” Reagan said.

Leadership is about stability, holding our ground, not being blown about by every wind of ideological fluctuation. We need to stick with the principles we believe are right and true, no matter how pragmatic other alternatives appear.

Reagan put that lesson to good use immediately upon being elected president in 1980. Inheriting a shattered American economy from Jimmy Carter, an economy wracked with double-digit inflation, 20 percent interest rates and stagnant productivity, Reagan turned the intelligentsia’s conventional economic wisdom on its head.

The so-called “experts” had come to accept high rates of inflation as a necessary evil of a growing economy. Reagan believed that bringing what he called the “cruelest tax of all” under control must constitute the first step of any responsible economic recovery strategy. Lower rates of inflation would reduce interest rates, while generating a climate of increased stability and predictability for businesses and investors alike, leading to long-term economic growth. Thus, Reagan threw his support behind Federal Reserve policies designed to swiftly kill the nation’s inflationary albatross.

This decision initially threw the American economy into a deepening recession. Factories closed. Double-digit unemployment ensued. Republicans suffered massive losses at the polls in 1982. How did Reagan respond when his popularity plummeted and the pressure to abandon his economic policies intensified? He told the nation: “Stay the course.” Reagan understood that this short-term pain was necessary to reverse years of economic policies that had favored high taxes and even higher government spending, much as a doctor opts to excise an infection that other doctors have unsuccessfully treated with conventional antibiotics.

The death of double-digit inflation cleared the way for the dramatic tax cuts Reagan had pushed through Congress in 1981 to work their magic upon the American economy. The combination of low inflation and lower taxes, which enabled working men and women to keep more of what they earned, launched the largest peacetime economic expansion in American history up to that time. The American people rewarded President Reagan with a stunning 49-state re-election landslide in 1984.

Naysayers contend that the historically high federal budget deficits of those years discredit Reagan’s economic policies. While enormous budget deficits unquestionably plagued the Reagan years, the notion that such deficits resulted from the 1981 tax cuts is erroneous. The federal government’s tax revenues increased following the 1981 tax cuts. The intransigence of a Democratic Congress on domestic spending, however, combined with the increased military spending necessary to win the Cold War, ensured that spending increased at a rate that far outpaced these higher tax revenues.

Reagan always contended that tax cuts would produce an expanding economy, which would generate sufficient increases in tax revenue to balance the federal budget. Ironically, despite the media’s constant ridicule of this assertion, Reagan was proven right by events that occurred under President Bill Clinton. Analysts have concluded that the budget surpluses of the late 1990s did not result from the Clinton tax increase of 1993; rather, these surpluses were the product of accelerating economic growth and the resulting increases in federal tax revenue, combined with reductions in spending, made possible in part by the end of the Cold War.

President Reagan demonstrated the same determination and tenacity throughout his two terms as president as he stared down the looming forces of international communism embodied in the monolithic Soviet Union. Knowing that the battle was one primarily of ideas, not military might, and that the Communist system was unwieldy and unworkable, Reagan loudly proclaimed its demise at a time when constant Cold War tensions were assumed to be a permanent fixture of international relations.

Speaking at the commencement ceremonies at the University of Notre Dame in 1981, he prophetically declared, “The West will not contain communism; it will transcend communism. We will not bother to denounce it; we’ll dismiss it as a sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.” At the time, his statement seemed to many to be pure fantasy. In June 1982, he delivered a speech before the British House of Commons, where he announced that “Marxism-Leninism will be left on the ash heap of history.” He reiterated this concept often, including in his famous Evil Empire speech to a rapt audience in Orlando, Fla., in March 1983.

While liberals on both sides of the Atlantic howled that President Reagan was driving the world to the brink of nuclear war, his first principles told him that the communist aggression was unsustainable and that citizens under that system yearned for the very freedoms their political masters sought to destroy. The seeds of its destruction were already sown, and it would be only a matter of time before they bore fruit.

Reagan did not fight the ideological battle with words alone; he initiated a defense policy built off his fundamental beliefs. He strengthened the military and committed the necessary resources to answer the communist threat, making our nation’s armed services the most technologically advanced in the world. He refused to capitulate any of the West’s strategic advantages to the Soviets, who were surprised when, in his second summit with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1986, he refused to budge on the development of the Strategic Defense Initiative (derisively called “Star Wars” by its critics).

Reagan transcended communism in our hemisphere as well, through the “Reagan Doctrine,” which prevented the Soviet Union and Cuba from pursuing their goal of establishing Marxist-Leninist client states throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. He also strengthened diplomatic and military ties with our allies in NATO, particularly with his likeminded colleagues British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who contributed greatly to heading off the Soviet military threat.

Of all of America’s political leaders during the 1980s, none were as vocal about the inevitable demise of the Soviet Union as Ronald Reagan. Only a man so daringly confident in his convictions could have traveled to Berlin in 1987 and boldly called for the dismantling of the Berlin Wall that had divided not only Germany, but the East and the West, free society and the enslaved, for more than a quarter of a century – with no indications that the situation was soon to change.

Yet slightly more than two years later, the wall would literally come crashing down, freeing hundreds of millions of people who had lived in political and economic bondage since the end of World War II. Ronald Reagan envisioned this dream, then formed a strategy to break the back of the communist empire that he executed flawlessly. It is a fitting tribute that a section of that wall, now completely dismantled, stands in the garden of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

It takes a figure like President Reagan, with such dramatic and history-creating accomplishments, for us to see the intimate connection between the concept of vision and the application of a worldview. After two decades of tumult and declining confidence, Ronald Reagan gave the American people a renewed sense of confidence regarding our unique shared identity as Americans. As only the Great Communicator could, he reminded us of what the American experiment was all about in his Farewell Address to the American people: “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life. In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.”

President Reagan enabled us to remember the thrill and responsibility of living in a City on the Hill. And as only a great leader can, he helped us to believe it and to live it. He modeled one of the most valuable contributions a leader can make to an organization or effort: helping followers turn theories into practice and inspiring them to join in the hard work and sacrifice. But this can never happen if we abandon our principles in midstream. We must not only arrive at the right ideas; we must develop the capacity to stick to them. In order to accomplish this feat, we must become the reference point for all those persons who come under our guidance and direction.

Reagan never failed to squarely confront a challenge. He knew that a leader, particularly the leader of the free world, must act decisively. An excellent example is his approach to the escalating terrorist threat. As terrorist states grew bolder in targeting American citizens around the globe, Reagan understood that the challenge was to raise the stakes beyond what the terrorists could bear. When he ordered a bombing of Tripoli, including the home of Libyan Gen. Moammar Gadhafi, a primary sponsor of terrorist activities, he took the battle to the opponents and raised the stakes. The net result was to reverse the initiative and to temporarily stand down terrorism directed at Americans.

Many lesser leaders would rather have tried to negotiate “peace” with America’s enemies, regardless of the price, but Reagan understood that the conflict with America’s enemies was over more than just government policies – it was over a conflict of visions and ideology. To countenance compromise on that basis would have meant an embrace of inevitable defeat. When the opportunity for genuine nuclear arms reduction agreements with the Soviet Union arose towards the end of his second term, however, Reagan did engage in compromise – principled compromise that set the stage for the end of the Cold War.

The Reagan presidency was not perfect. Reagan made mistakes, to which he attested and made amends. Thus, in the final analysis, he was able to overcome these errors. History will bear witness to the greatness of Ronald Reagan because he was courageous and undaunted. He taught us as a country to embrace the truth of our role in the world, to understand the ideas behind it, and to never relinquish them. In his struggles, whether as head of the Screen Actors Guild, as governor of California, or as president of the United States, he never shrank from a battle. He believed in the power of his ideas, so he anticipated victory. He learned that lesson from one of his models, Winston Churchill, who said, “When you feel you cannot continue in your position for another minute, and all that is in human power has been done, that is the moment when the enemy is most exhausted, and when one step forward will give you the fruits of the struggle you have borne.”

Ronald Reagan immediately came to mind as I thought of examples of leaders who stuck to their guns. On further study, I found that Reagan’s life constitutes a veritable primer on tenacity as an essential trait of greatness in a leader.

Special offer:

“Center of the Storm” will not be released to retailers until Oct. 8, but WND readers can get their copies now at the WorldNetDaily online store, nearly a full month before the book is generally available. Harris has also agreed to offer signed copies of the book exclusively for WorldNetDaily readers. Order Katherine Harris’ book now!