By L&T Publisher Earl Watt
There are times during a presidency, that what a president says and what a president does not always mesh, but it’s how they respond to it that defines whether or not we ever trust them again.
I have made no secret about being a member of the Reagan Revolution. Ronald Reagan was president during my teen years, and I, like many, believed in his vision of the shining city on the hill.
But we didn’t just believe in him blindly or glean over his faults.
Reagan made a major mistake in the Iran-Contra affair where arms were traded for hostages.
Reagan had told us that he did not trade arms for hostages.
He also appointed an independent board to research the issue, and the report was not kind to Reagan.
But Reagan restored our faith in the presidency and in the government on March 4, 1987.
He admitted he was wrong.
“A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.”
Wow. The President of the United States went on national television to tell us he made a mistake.
Not in some generic way. He didn’t say, “I make mistakes every day,” or “Nobody’s perfect.”
He specifically admitted that the handling of the weapons for hostages was wrong.
He admitted several other shortcomings in the speech.
He said his management of the NSC was not acceptable.
He established additional oversight mechanisms.
“One thing still upsetting me, however, is that no one kept proper records of meetings or decisions (at the NSC),” Reagan said. “This led to my failure to recollect whether I approved an arms shipment before or after the fact. I did approve it; I just can’t say specifically when. Well, rest assured, there’s plenty of recordkeeping now going on at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The Tower report recommended changes to how the presidency administered issues like these, and Reagan adopted every one of them. And then he added some more standards.
Why aren’t we seeing that today?
Our faith in government is deteriorating because Barack Obama doesn’t know what is going on. If he doesn’t know, who is really in charge?
From Benghazi to the IRS and obvious falsehoods on Obamacare, he either claims ignorance or tries to respin his words.
Leaders can admit when they are wrong. They take responsibility, and then they offer corrective action.
When they don’t, we not only lose trust in the person, we lose trust in the office.
Reagan began his speech in 1987 by telling us where the power really lies.
“The power of the Presidency is often thought to reside within this Oval Office,” Reagan said. “Yet it doesn't rest here; it rests in you, the American people, and in your trust. Your trust is what gives a President his powers of leadership and his personal strength, and it's what I want to talk to you about this evening.”
Without the public trust, leadership is lost.
Our system demands that our president tells us the truth. When his words do not mesh with the actions, he needs to tell us that. If not, we no longer trust or respect the office.
If Obama wants to start a process of leaving a lasting legacy, he needs to start by admitting his words were not the truth.
Whether he admits it or not, the American people already know his health care statements were a lie, whether he intended them to be or not.
For the sake of the presidency, it’s time to accept responsibility and admit the wrong.
Obama likes to mention Reagan often. Follow Reagan’s lead, Mr. President, and restore public trust.
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