Columnist Charley Reese, R.I.P.


One of the nation’s best newspaper columnists passed away last week.  Charley Reese was a beacon of light at the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001.  He continued to write columns which were syndicated nationally through 2008, and his pieces provided readers with superb insights into the nature of the government and politics.

I never met him in person but he and I exchanged a few letters. He struck me as the incarnation of a thoughtful, considerate, Southern gentleman.

Here is a C-Span link to an interview that Brian Lamb conducted with Charley during the Bill Clinton impeachment circus.

I especially appreciated Charley’s courage in labeling U.S. government abuses and foreign policy debacles. He had spent too many years dealing with hard facts to be swept away by the latest political mania.  One of Charley’s classic columns has been bouncing around lately on the web and is reprinted below. (This version is from Snopes; other versions have floated around that included add-ins not written by Charley.)

Politicians, as I have often said, are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.

Everything on the Republican contract is a problem created by Congress. Too much bureaucracy? Blame Congress. Too many rules?

Blame Congress. Unjust tax laws? Congress wrote them.

Out-of-control bureaucracy? Congress authorizes everything bureaucracies do. Americans dying in Third World rat holes on stupid U.N. missions? Congress allows it. The annual deficits?

Congress votes for them. The $4 trillion plus debt? Congress created it.

To put it into perspective just remember that 100 percent of the power of the federal government comes from the U.S. Constitution. If it’s not in the Constitution, it’s not authorized.

Then read your Constitution. All 100 percent of the power of the federal government is invested solely in 545 individual human beings. That’s all. Of 260 million Americans, only 545 of them wield
100 percent of the power of the federal government.

That’s 435 members of the U.S. House, 100 senators, one president and nine Supreme Court justices. Anything involving government that is wrong is 100 percent their fault.

I exclude the vice president because constitutionally he has no power except to preside over the Senate and to vote only in the case of a tie. I exclude the Federal Reserve because Congress created it and all its power is power Congress delegated to it and could withdraw anytime it chooses to do so. In fact, all the power exercised by the 3 million or so other federal employees is power delegated from the 545.

All bureaucracies are created by Congress or by executive order of the president. All are financed and staffed by Congress. All enforce laws passed by Congress.

All operate under procedures authorized by Congress. That’s why all complaints and protests should be properly directed at Congress, not at the individual agencies.

You don’t like the IRS? Go see Congress. You think the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agency is running amok? Go see Congress.

Congress is the originator of all government problems and is also the only remedy available. That’s why, of course, politicians go to such extraordinary lengths and employ world-class sophistry to make you think they are not responsible. Anytime a congressman pretends to be outraged by something a federal bureaucrat does, he is in fact engaging in one big massive con job. No federal employee can act at all except to enforce laws passed by Congress and to employ procedures authorized by Congress either explicitly or implicitly.

Partisans on both sides like to blame presidents for deficits, but all deficits are congressional deficits. The president may, by custom, recommend a budget, but it carries no legal weight. Only Congress is authorized by the Constitution to authorize and appropriate and to levy taxes. That’s what the federal budget consists of: expenditures authorized, funds appropriated and taxes levied.

Both Democrats and Republicans mislead the public. For 40 years Democrats had majorities and could have at any time balanced the budget if they had chosen to do so. Republicans now have majorities and could, if they choose, pass a balanced budget this year. Every president, Democrat or Republican, could have vetoed appropriations bills that did not make up a balanced budget. Every president could have recommended a balanced budget. None has done either.

We have annual deficits and a huge federal debt because that’s what majorities in Congress and presidents in the White House wanted. We have troops in various Third World rat holes because Congress and the president want them there.

Don’t be conned. Don’t let them escape responsibility. We simply have to sort through 260 million people until we find 545 who will act responsibly.


Charley wrote several columns on my books; I greatly appreciated his kind words. Here’s a 1999 column:

Read all about it: American liberty is more myth than reality

Charley Reese of The Sentinel Staff

Orlando Sentinel, February 28, 1999.

James Bovard, the American government’s most unfavorite journalist, has done all who value liberty a great service. He has meticulously documented freedom’s demise in America and set it all in its proper philosophical framework.

An intelligent reader of Freedom in Chains, the Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen (St. Martin’s Press) will have no doubt left that American liberty is now more myth than reality and that the U.S. government is drifting inexorably toward an authoritarian state.

It is the documentation — the specific cases, the specific rulings, the specific statements — that create the menacing mosaic of a state with an insatiable appetite for more power.

“To blindly trust government is to automatically vest it with excessive power. To distrust government is simply to trust humanity — to trust in the ability of average people to peacefully, productively coexist without some official policing their every move. The State is merely another human institution — less creative than Microsoft, less reliable than Federal Express, less responsible than the average farmer husbanding his land, and less prudent than the average citizen spending his own paycheck.” So Bovard writes in his last chapter.

That should give you the flavor of the book. I will leave the rest to you and simply add my own comments to reinforce his theme.

Truly, freedom is the capacity to make decisions in the absence of coercion. Because every law, by its nature and regardless of its subject, commands us to do something or not do something, it follows like a river down a hill that freedom is diminished law by law, regulation by regulation, for each one eliminates a decision we could have made ourselves.

American tyranny has come gradually, like a slowly rising river. Each of us does not realize the danger until the water comes in our door. Until then, it is merely someone else’s problem and a problem that we fool ourselves into thinking won’t reach us.

The big problem I see for those of us who care about freedom is that we are not organized. Rather we are separate, little groups concerned mainly about one particular subject, whether it’s freedom to own firearms or property rights or press rights or religious rights. Half the time we don’t even communicate, and in some cases we oppose each other.

Many newspapers, fierce about the First Amendment, actually lead the campaign against the Second Amendment. Urban folks, mostly renters or mortgage payers, tend to be unsympathetic to the encroachment on property rights, which, at the present, mainly hits large property owners such as farmers or developers.

On the other hand, statists — those ideologically driven to increase the power of the state to the point at which no individual freedom is left — tend to be united and organized.

I don’t know how it will end. Many Americans, it seems to me, prefer security to freedom. There is, after all, a rough and raw side to freedom, for it means assuming personal responsibility for income, home, safety and health. It means the discipline to plan and to forego the immediate pleasure for the more distant payoff. It means hard work and a frugal habit. It means the courage to risk failure, to risk loss and the endurance to survive them. It isn’t easy.

You could say freedom is like a wild mustang that is difficult to mount and to ride and that lots of folks prefer the comfort of a carriage drawn by government-broke horses.

orlando sentinel employees


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2 Responses to Columnist Charley Reese, R.I.P.

  1. Z May 30, 2013 at 1:17 am #

    Good stuff. Charley Reese’s columns are what initially brought me to websites like LRC and reading your works to ultimately become a libertarian.

  2. Jim May 30, 2013 at 7:32 am #

    Charley was a very thoughtful guy – which perhaps explains why his column did not receive as much attention as it deserved around the nation. Many newspaper editors preferred reliable Washington pap.