Volume 2, Issue 6
Now, let’s think about this a minute historically. George Washington campaigned during the Revolutionary War under the flag of a pine tree and an Appeal to Heaven. It was a cause for unification among the colonies. We know that prayer is appropriate in the Capitol Building. There are prayer breakfasts, prayer group meetings, and the Senate opens its sessions with a prayer. What was the possible intent of the staffers’ action? It defies common sense.
Further, it is a restriction of free speech. Either the meeting’s purpose was appropriate, or it was not. The meeting room was legally available for the meeting, or it was not. To dictate to anyone the content and limits of their speech in the United States Capitol Building is an anathema to the first amendment to the Constitution.
Such a challenge of common sense dealing with our national government has happened before. But in one particular case, a different outcome was realized because of common sense leadership. Ronald Reagan served the United States as President from 1981-1988. He was known as a president who stood on principles. He never worried about conventional wisdom or the social acceptability of society. He believed in a commitment to eternal truths. And he was bound by his commitment to principles. In other words, he led.
There was a time in his presidency when there was a realized crisis of unwed teen pregnancy in the United States. The raging debate was whether or not abstinence should be included as a possible remedy for this crisis facing young women in America.
The establishment progressives in Washington, DC argued that abstinence had no place in the discussion because it was an outdated moral value that had no relevancy at that time. In other words, promiscuous sex was inevitable and a socially acceptable activity of the day. Therefore, the only remedies that were to be advanced were things like sex education and the distribution of contraceptive devices in the public schools.
President Reagan stated that abstinence before marriage was still an option and a directive for unwed teens. He didn’t demand abstinence as a virtue, as a priority, or even as the only option. He only wanted it included as an option. The liberal press ridiculed him, and a leading national newspaper went so far as to editorialize saying that surely we’re not going back to that “quaint old notion of fidelity.”
Lee Atwater, then a consultant to Vice President George H.W. Bush, related a story of the cabinet meeting held on the day the national editorial ran. The cabinet collected in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Everyone was in a jovial mood. In fact, a couple of cabinet members even mentioned the editorial and laughed about it. The first thing on the agenda that day was the Surgeon General’s Public Health Report on the health of the United States, and the question before the cabinet was whether or not abstinence should be included as a practice of good health for unmarried teenage women.
President Reagan most mornings began the meetings with a smile and with optimism. This morning however, he began with a very stern look on his face. It caught the entire cabinet by surprise. He was holding in his hand a copy of the editorial. Then he said this newspaper has “called me old-fashioned” for suggesting that abstinence should be listed as a health practice to avoid teen pregnancy.
Later that morning President Reagan was to fly to Omaha, Nebraska. He would be addressing an audience of Midwesterners. President Reagan asked his cabinet for advice on what he should say to a husband or wife when they asked him whether or not fidelity was as an old fashioned idea, and further, whether or not commitments made in marriage vows were simply words of convenience. He also added that he believed that people who still believe in fidelity in marriage should be respected for their viewpoints.
At that point he turned to the cabinet secretary on his right and asked for his opinion and advice on the matter. The mood had become instantly somber. No one in the room was now laughing or thought that the editorial had any merit or weight on the issue. Each cabinet secretary answered the same, “I have nothing to add to that, Mr. President,” the next secretary, “I have nothing to add to that, Mr. President,” the next secretary, “I have nothing to add to that, Mr. President,” and so it went on around the table.
C. Everett Koop, the U.S. Surgeon General, was sitting on the side of the room waiting for the first agenda item to be addressed. The President did not call on Dr. Koop to speak, he simply stated that he assumed it would be OK to include in the report abstinence as a possible remedy for teen pregnancy in the Surgeon General’s Report. Dr. Koop said, “Mr. President, it will be in there by 4 o’clock this afternoon.” And that national newspaper has never opined on the matter since.
President Reagan exercised common sense leadership based on truth. He did not yield to the peer pressure of the national intelligentsia. He did not care what the national press thought was old fashioned or not. By one simple act of leading, in a moment, he changed the entire environment and direction of the debate.
I waited one day to publish this Nuttle Report because I wanted to see whether or not common sense would rule out in the decision to allow Bishop Jackson to hold a meeting in our nation’s Capitol Building for the purpose of unification. It did not.
There is a reason why Thomas Paine, in his treatise on liberty and independence, entitled his work Common Sense. Regardless of what your position is on fidelity or prayer, all opinions should be heard respectfully -- even the conventional ones. Today we need, more than ever, common sense leadership, not sense of perception leadership.
My name is Marc Nuttle and this is what I believe.
What do you believe?