Professionals of all types admire others in their field. Architects respect certain other architects, singers style themselves after singers who came before them, artists can find inspiration from someone else’s work.
As a columnist I have a favorite too. The best columns I ever read – and ones I remember for their common sense ideas, written in common-man language – were penned by veteran newspaperman Charley Reese.
I didn’t agree with everything he wrote but I cherished his style. Although I write about crime and justice and Reese wrote about politics and international issues for the most part, I admit I have tried to achieve his simple way of communicating ideas.
Reese, who was born in Georgia in 1937 and died in May of this year, was a self-proclaimed conservative who jumped back and forth between the democratic and republican parties while admitting he was often drawn to libertarian ideals. To my mind that meant he was smart enough not to swallow partisan political messages and kept an open mind about things. My father would have described him as, “his own man.”
In 1984, while writing for the Orlando Sentinel, Reese came to national prominence when he wrote about the injustices he saw emanating from Washington. Congress a particular target.
“Most politicians today are not human beings,” Reese wrote in an article for the Conservative Chronicle. “You want to pry open their mouths and shout into the darkness, ‘Hello! Is there a human being in there?’ Buried under all that lust for office, is all that fear of offending a contributor.”
See any modern-day relevance to that thirty-year-old remark? I sure do.
In my favorite Reese column entitled, “The 545 People Responsible For All Of America’s Woes,” Reese wrote that each of the nation’s problems could be traced directly to the President, the members of the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives and the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise complete power over the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want to exist,” Reese wrote. “If the tax code is unfair, it’s because they want it unfair. If the budget is in the red, it’s because they want it in the red. If the Marines are in Lebanon, it’s because they want them in Lebanon.”
Just insert our modern day conflict in Afghanistan in place of his mention of Lebanon and Reese’s words still ring true.
Updated copies of “545” began to resurface during the 2008 presidential campaign with names of modern day politicians inserted and a reference to Iraq. It is still being passed around the internet today with various unauthorized updates.
In a type of language every reader could easily absorb, Reese proclaimed that politicians are, “The only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.”
About the ever-expanding government Reese asked, “Out-of-control bureaucracy? Congress authorizes everything bureaucrats do. Too many rules? Blame Congress. The annual deficits? Congress votes for them. You don’t like the IRS? Go see Congress,” he wrote. “Don’t be conned. Don’t let them escape responsibility.”
Over the years, Reese’s syndicated columns were often quoted and sometimes entered into the Congressional Record by politicians ashamed of their fellow colleague’s behavior.
One of the paragraphs he wrote years ago still resonates today:
“Have you ever wondered why, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, we have deficits? Have you ever wondered why, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, that we have inflation and high taxes?”
If the words you write still have meaning decades later, if you can cut directly to the core of a problem to help solve it – isn’t that the definition of wisdom? To me, Reese was a perceptive sage whose call to, “Toss out the bums” should have been heeded by citizens long ago. Now look at the mess we’ve got.
To those who complained to Reese that the nation’s ills were the fault of special interests or lobbyists, the columnist replied, “They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman or a president to do one cotton-picking thing. I don’t care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it.”
At the end of each year I try to think back about those people who have touched my life. I never met Charley Reese but I wish I had. Through his columns he spoke about justice and fairness and practicality. He urged readers to care about important things like honesty, integrity and the need for a government that works for all the people and not for political self-interest.
Toward the end of his career Reese told an interviewer, “It’s not important to me if people agree or disagree with my point of view,” he said. “What I hope my column does is provoke people into thinking about issues, about the world, and their place in it.”
My sentiments exactly. I know not every reader is going to embrace what I write but I continue to write because it is vitally important that all Americans find time to contemplate the sphere outside their own life. With just 545 people controlling things – and doing a pretty miserable job, in my opinion – I think it is high time we wrest some of that control away.
As Reese said, “It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 235 million cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted — by present facts – of incompetence and irresponsibility.”
We’re 314 million strong now. We can change things.