I came across this piece I wrote a few years back, so it’s a bit dated (just like me), but the sentiments still apply today.
The Quest For American Leadership In the 21st Century:
A Few Home Truths
Ronald Reagan once said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”, a simple statement of trust in the great, good sense of average Americans to hash out the pressing politics of the day. One of the saddest commentaries in recent years on the state of America, came from pop culture icon, Oprah Winfrey, who devoted an entire show to teaching American parents the importance of finding time for family dinners. Despite the statistics on divorce, out of wedlock births and the steady mass media messaging, the importance of the American family emerged on Oprah, with a host of “experts” on hand, to teach us about family dinner time. Millions of Oprah followers, I am sure, began talking amongst their friends and just as they buy the books she recommends, most assuredly many started trying to fit family dinners into their weekly schedule. How do family dinners and the quest for American leadership fit together? In our fast-paced, multi-tasking society, few common threads strengthen the waft and weave of our national fabric, so perhaps the family dinner table emerges as the place to begin this quest.
A young, single mother, with two young daughters, asked me a question this past Christmas that left me stunned for a moment. She wanted to know how to start family traditions. Growing up in a large family, in rural America in the 1960s, our family life ran like clock work and I never consciously thought about family traditions; they were just there. Sheltered from the turmoil and social upheaval of that decade, our family and community life continued relatively unscathed. My father, a blue collar worker, taught us by example, putting a value-based education in simple terms, “if you give your word; you keep it”. My mother enforced discipline, family dinner at 5 p.m., with the table set properly, cleaning the house from top to bottom on Saturday morning, with her assigning tasks with the efficiency of a drill sergeant and marching us to Sunday school in crisply ironed clothes and spotless shoes. My mother, placing high value on proper attire, shined shoes for all six children, when we were young, teaching us along the way how to do that task ourselves.
This young mother works hard trying to provide for her children, with the father providing child support on a sporadic basis. Her mother, with a chronic drug problem, offered no secure foundation for her to learn how to build a strong family. Multiply her situation, to hundreds of thousands of American children growing up without learning basic values, bereft of the security of a stable family life and the social chaos in America comes as no surprise. So, perhaps the Oprah dinner time show provided a public service. In lieu of parents instilling basic values, a mass-media produced line of “experts”, flashing ivy-league credentials or pop icon celebrity status, fill the void. Why on earth would anyone turn to Suzanne Somers for medical advice or Dr. Phil for advice on family problems?
The election of President Obama, the Tea Party movement and soaring popularity of Glenn Beck indicate millions of Americans yearn for a better America, divergent as their messages may appear. President Obama ran on a message of transforming America, leveling the playing field, expanding opportunities for all, and beating down the status quo. Those on the right of the political spectrum, calm down, I am speaking about the message, not the reality. The Tea Party movement appears to be a genuine populist uprising, with a few common themes of smaller government and fiscal responsibility as their message. Due to a lack of a national platform or organizational structure, I suppose we will see every type from good ole sweet tea to herbal concoctions, of course, we will probably be spared a green tea group.
Where to start with Glenn Beck, let’s see, his chalkboard antics aside, his message centers on a demand for honest government, a return to the original intent of the founding fathers, as encapsulated in The Constitution. His call to read about our founding fathers and our original founding documents definitely deserves praise. However, I urge people to tread lightly at accepting the simplisitc bows he ties all his theories in, targeting, those nefarious Progressives with the blame for all that ails us.
Discontented with unresponsive national leaders, Americans increasingly are losing faith in the two-party system, providing an opportunity for grass roots populism to flourish. Before jumping on any political bandwagon, prudence requires serious study, reflection, and most of all stepping back and thinking for yourself. Learning to evaluate events and politics, free of media-fueled, partisan flame-throwing should be the starting point. Now, back to the family dinner table, a few family dinner time conversations will quickly cure you of a belief that one political shoe fits all. Promote civil discourse, at home, among friends and in public forums. Civil discourse requires listening to opposing opinions and ideas, not shouting down the other side. Be an American first, remembering we can always find room to squeeze in another point of view at our political table. Including dissenting voices into the national dialogue, rather than shouting them down, as demonstrated by those disgraceful Congressional town hall meetings last summer, offers the path to forging consensus and building national unity.
President Abraham Lincoln stated “Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap. Let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges. Let it be written in primers, spelling books, and in almanacs. Let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in the courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation.” Few would argue that our leaders should be men of good character. Defining what constitutes good character, a task that should be simple, will produce a confusing array of answers, if you do a quick survey of your friends. Going back to my father’s, “if you give your word; you keep it” belief, demanding our national leaders possess basic honesty, propels us further in this quest than dissecting political platforms, plank by plank, ever will.
The challenges facing America, from the war against radical Jihadists to our escalating economic crisis, demand leaders willing to build renewed faith in our governmental institutions; to find solutions and protect our nation or we face the very real possibility of massive civil unrest and collapse. Machiavelli, endlessly quoted for his “the ends justify the means” line, offered advice for republics too. He stated, “A republic may, likewise, be brought back to its original form, without recourse to ordinances for enforcing justice, by the mere virtues of a single citizen, by reason that these virtues are of such influence and authority that good men love to imitate them, and bad men are ashamed to depart from them.” We need to demand that type of leader in this century.
The quest for our 21st century American leaders starts with you. Step One: Think for yourself; move away from being swayed by political partisans hurling talking points at you. Take the time to study issues, candidates and find your own moral compass. President George Washington, my favorite founding father, wrote a list titled, Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation”, 110 rules covering everything from admonitions not to clean your teeth with the tablecloth to don’t run in the streets. He ended with #110: “Labour to keep alive in your breast that Little Spark of Celestial Fire Called Conscience.” That should be your guide.
Step Two: Be the leader of your own destiny. Don’t be a follower of populist movements. left or right, unless you have completed Step One. Before becoming a political lemming, allowing professional media figures to press your political hot buttons, calmly discuss issues with family and friends. In our 24 hour news cycle, internet-connected world, misinformation, disinformation and outright lies can circle the globe in minutes. Don’t let these control your political reasoning, refer back to Step Two.
Step Three: Follow the rules. President Lincoln’s call for reverence for the laws provides the keystone to rebuilding a stronger America. When political aspirants lack personal integrity, obfuscate on public issues, or find excuses for not following the rules; move on and continue your quest for worthy leaders. To honor those who sacrificed all, to secure our blessings of liberty, at the very least we all have a duty to become informed citizens, who demand men and women of character to lead us in this century.