It was a great honor to receive the Reagan Legacy Award at this year’s Conservative Leadership Conference in Las Vegas. It was an honor not only because it carries the name of President Reagan, and is awarded to those who have helped advance his ideals, but because it was presented to me in the company of some of the conservative movement’s top leaders and thinkers.
Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, National Rifle Association President David A. Keene, radio talk show host and political commentator Roger Hedgecock, Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, now of the Free Congress Foundation, Donna Weisner Keene of the Independent Women’s Forum, the inimitable Sheriff of Maricopa County Arizona Joe Arpaio, our host Chuck Muth, President and CEO of Citizen Outreach and organizer of the Conservative Leadership Conference, and many others were there to fire-up the troops and share their insights into how conservatives can win elections and take back our great country.
In my remarks the day before accepting the Reagan Legacy Award, I covered a number of topics, but the one I’d like most to share with you is one I use everyday in politics and in my business: leadership begins with you.
I think the idea that leadership begins with you is particularly apropos to today’s political environment, and today’s conservative movement.
Too often we limit our definition of “leader” to candidates or elected government and party officials – but all of us can, and should be, leaders. And this is true in any aspect of life; work, community service, public policy – your leadership is needed regardless of any job you hold or matter in which you are involved.
As the Reagan Revolution began, I used to meet weekly at my home with a group of other principled young conservatives, including Ed Fuelner, Howard Phillips, Terry Dolan, Paul Weyrich, Morton Blackwell, Ron Godwin of the Moral Majority and a few others who wanted to return America to the small government constitutional principles of the Founders.
We had the sense that the Republican Party, dominated as it was by old-line establishment politicians, was an airplane in which we were riding and while we didn’t necessarily know how to fly it, we had some ideas about where it ought to go.
One day we decided to go up to the cockpit to talk to the pilots and share our ideas, but when we went up and opened the cockpit door, we discovered there were no pilots. It was up to us to learn how to fly the airplane and take it where we wanted it to go.
And so it really always has been with the conservative movement. Ours is a grassroots, not a top-down, movement.
Whether you choose to be a candidate or look for some other role, today’s conservative activists have some unique tools to exercise leadership on a personal level. As effective as direct mail, talk radio, and cable TV through Fox News and C-SPAN have been in fueling the rise of the conservative movement, the media channel that has really empowered grassroots Tea Party movement activists is the internet.
The internet makes communicating simple, cheap and immediate.
Imagine how difficult it would have been to turnout people to attend town hall meetings to protest Obamacare in 2009 and 2010 without email, or organize the Tea Party rallies at the Capitol if we had to do it by phone tree as we once did.
Through the internet conservatives can, and do, exercise leadership at the personal level – we don’t have to wait around for a party boss or a union steward or paid community organizer to tell us what to do. We simply ride to the sound of the guns.
We saw this in the Tea Party wave election of 2010 and in the Rick Santorum campaign this year. People sat down at their computers, composed an email saying, “I’m going to be at the corner of…” to protest Obamacare or support Rick Santorum, they hit send, and sometimes hundreds, even thousands of people showed-up.
Of course it is not as simple as just “hitting send” and expecting thousands of people to show-up. A lot of work goes into building Twitter and email lists, setting-up the websites and creating all of the other elements of a successful grassroots movement, but it usually starts with one person exercising personal leadership and “hitting send.”
If you want to make a real difference this campaign cycle, be a leader and head to the sound of the guns.
Leadership is not only about running for office; you can be a leader by recruiting and encouraging principled small government conservatives to run, or through raising money or managing a campaign.
As a citizen concerned about the direction our country has taken under Barrack Obama, you can show leadership through something as simple as writing a letter to the editor, or your email contact list. However, leadership isn’t limited to national politics either – if you are concerned about your local property taxes, oppressive zoning laws, failing schools or how your local or state government spends your hard earned tax dollars, be a leader and step-up to fly the airplane yourself.
Do not wait to establish your Twitter account, build your followers list and make a habit of updating regularly, establish a Facebook page for your local Tea Party group, set-up fan pages for conservative candidates, blog about where the candidates stand on the issues, build and maintain your email and texting lists, and most importantly, exercise personal leadership – it is the only way to get the airplane where you want it to go.