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The courage of your convictions

As a young paratrooper, I made my first jump off the ramp at the back of the aircraft as opposed to jumping out the side door. The Jumpmaster was a Green Beret Master Sergeant who did all the usual air safety checks and gave all the right commands. I was expecting him to tell me when to jump and then follow me out.

But he didn’t do that. He stood up and looked at all of us waiting jumpers, and when the green light went on, he yelled, “Follow me!” Off the ramp he went into the abyss, and we would have followed him anywhere at that moment.

People follow when a leader like my Jumpmaster stands up and says: “I see the way forward and I’m willing to go first. I’m willing to risk it. Follow me!”

This past week the Alabama Republican Party held its Winter Dinner with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivering the keynote address. As expected, DeSantis, “America’s Governor,” knocked it out of the park. Whether he will run for president remains to be seen, but everything he said to that crowd of well over 1,500 attendees needs to be a part of the next presidential administration, regardless of who takes the helm.

DeSantis spoke on fiscal discipline, traditional values, taking care of our kids and pushing back on woke ideology. He talked about the Southern border, the Constitution, cutting red tape, fighting good fights and ending bad fights.

But the most important thing he said all evening was what sold me on his potential to be a national statesman. “You can be right on all of the policies, but if you don’t have the courage of your convictions, you will never beat the left,” he said unequivocally.

He is right. None of the policies matter, none of the rhetoric matters, none of the plans and budgets and agenda items matter, if the leader at the helm doesn’t go into each and every one of them with the courage to back up his convictions and fight to make them happen. We don’t need or have time for public officials who look for the most expedient route, the easy road, the soft landing.

Conservative candidates and politicians must note that the left does not care about their political futures or whether they make the political debate go more smoothly. Far-left progressives want to burn conservatives’ political and cultural house down with them in it, and they could care less about whether conservative candidates and politicians want to offer them compromise or avoid going on the record.

It is not enough to have “convictions.” We must also have the courage to stand when our convictions are challenged.

Ronald Reagan is someone who had the “courage of his convictions.” He was regularly trounced by the left. “What could a guy who was a movie star possibly know about leadership?!” they said. “He starred in movies with monkeys!”

Never mind that Reagan was on the record for years as a conservative. Never mind his successful run as the governor of California back when California elected conservative governors.

Reagan stood in the face of extreme opposition in the wake of the Carter presidency. He faced the Cold War with the Soviet Union. He dealt with a broken economy at a time when American foreign policy was in the tank and political expediency was the norm.

But Reagan also had convictions and the strength to do something with them no matter what the naysayers threw at him. “The defining feature of Ronald Reagan was his moral courage,” one account of Reagan’s legacy states:

“It takes tremendous moral courage to resist the overwhelming tide of received opinion and so-called expert wisdom and to say and do exactly the opposite. It could not have been pleasant for Reagan to be denounced as an ignorant cowboy, an extremist, a warmonger, a fascist, or worse by people who thought themselves intellectually superior to him. … During Reagan’s presidency, America enjoyed its longest period of sustained economic growth in the 20th century. … By the time he left office, the faith of Americans in the greatness of their country had been restored. … [H]e ended his days as the single most important American conservative figure of the last century. Not bad for an ignorant cowboy.”

But that reputation did not happen because Reagan took a walk on the hard stuff. He believed it, and he acted on it, and the world was better because he did.

There is something magical that takes place when a leader is willing to get out front and take his or her position and stake out ground unequivocally. Naysayers will show up, but so will people who are dying for someone to actually lead.

Not everyone has the gift of leadership, but those who do have an obligation to use that gift effectively. They have a duty to refuse to waffle, to decline to look for the easy way out. People will respond to a leader who says, with the courage of his convictions, “I see a better way! Follow me!”

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