January 28, 2007
Leadership and the Border ChaosBy Chad Kent
One thread in today's culture is a certain horror of any kind of conflict or confrontation. It is a norm passionately held by some, and they demand deference to it as the price of political correctness. Some people may receive a pass, but not conservatives, who are vilified when they play hardball. One reason President Bush is so deeply reviled by some is his disregard for this delicate sensibility with regard to war.
In domestic politics, the need to attend to touchy-feely concepts like "consensus" and "bi-partisanship" created a void of leadership even when the GOP controlled Congress and the presidency. The compromise strategy does not work out so well for bold leadership - ever. Anyone with a little common sense knows that trying to please everyone is a great recipe for ensuring that no one is happy in the end.
For an example of a problem that needs bold leadership, but which is locked into a keep-em-happy coalition of powerful interest groups, look no farther than the chaos on our southern border. We may not be able to control who comes into our country, but employers got their cheap labor, minorities were mollified, the upper middle clas got nannies and gardeners. Meanwhile the problem was allowed to grow and grow. Everybody wins. Except for our sovereignty and security.
Only real leadership, determined to fight the political battles and prevail, could fix our border mess. The others need to understand that the leader means it.
There is a story that is often told about Andrew Jackson that demonstrates this perfectly. Long before Jackson became our nation's 7th president, he served as a judge on the Tennessee Supreme Court. One day, Jackson was presiding over a trial that was disrupted by a local hooligan who was yelling out threats against everyone in the courtroom.
Judge Jackson sent the sheriff out to arrest the thug, who was armed and clearly violent. After a few minutes had passed, the sheriff returned to tell Jackson that the man was so belligerent that he couldn't be apprehended. Irritated, Jackson told him to "summon a posse" and bring the man into the courtroom.
It wasn't long before the sheriff returned again and explained to Judge Jackson that the posse was unable to take the man into custody because he was threatening to "shoot the first skunk that come within ten feet of him." Visibly upset at this point, Jackson demanded that the sheriff summon him to be a part of the posse as well.
After the sheriff agreed to make him a member of the posse, Jackson recessed the trial for 10 minutes, stood up to take off his robe, grabbed his pistol and abruptly walked out of the court. Judge Jackson walked directly up to the hooligan and looked him right in the eye before saying:
"Now, surrender you infernal villain, this very instant, or I'll blow you through!"
After a short hesitation, the man peacefully allowed himself to be taken into custody.
After everything was said and done, someone asked the trouble-maker why he surrendered to Judge Jackson after holding off an entire posse of men. His response was very instructive:
"Why, when he came up, I looked him in the eye, and I saw shoot, and there wasn't shoot in nary other eye in the crowd [...]"
In other words, this guy knew that if he resisted, Jackson would not hesitate to shoot him.
It's tough to know exactly how much of this anecdote is true and how much has been embellished after being told year after year. However, the core of the story is accurate and that core shows that a strong reputation of backing up your words with action will cause even fanatic men to back down from challenging you. Jackson was well known for making good on his promises and, as a result, people were very hesitant to call his bluff.
Until we begin backing up our immigration laws with actions, criminals on our southern border will only get more and more outrageous in the ways that they violate our national sovereignty. On the other hand, if the United States establishes a reputation of strictly enforcing our borders and following through with swift punishment, very few people will be willing to take the risk of illegally entering the United States.
Unfortunately, Congress refuses to show any leadership whatsoever in cleaning up the problems on our southern border. If our representatives in Washington D.C. would simply show enough courage to take the situation seriously, that alone would be enough to deter a lot of people from violating our borders. Nonetheless, in today's political climate that forbids confrontation, politicians will continue talking out of both sides of their mouths while doing nothing - and average Americans will be put in serious danger because of Congress' inaction.
The information for this column can be found in "Life of Andrew Jackson, Vol. 1" (1860) by James Parton and "Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times" (2005) by H.W. Brands.
Chad Kent is a freelance writer and political commentator who lives in central Illinois. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.