- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Willie Nelson's famous song is the perfect tribute for retiring House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican. In a country today made up of people in search of leaders who inspire and encourage, Mr. Armey's rugged individualism, intellectual rigor, clarity of insight combined with healthy doses of humor and good will, gives them just what they're looking for. A self described "born-again" freedom fighter, Mr. Armey is Washington's Hollywood equivalent of John Wayne.
Mr. Armey knew that it was better to be a "pleasant surprise, than a bitter disappointment." And boy was he right. Washington and dare I say it the country as whole, has benefited greatly from Mr. Armey's presence. The brilliant recommendation to nationalize the elections with the "Contract With America" and the will to keep faith with the public by actually bringing to the House floor each and every part of it helped to restore trust in elected leaders. Indeed, the approval rating of Congress is higher now than its been in a generation.
The man born in Cando, N.D. embodies the "can do" spirit. His skyrocketing political career leading him from freshman backbencher to a third floor suite in the U.S. Capitol in 10 short years is only one testimonial to his talent. The Texas Republican the Wall Street Journal called a "think tank in cowboy boots" deserves much of the credit for the 1994 Republican victory and for sustaining the conservative movement during the Clinton years.
For purposes of full disclosure, I will acknowledge that I had the privilege to work for Mr. Armey for 13 years. But it's precisely the ability to watch him up close and from afar that gives me the vantage point to report. You see, Mr. Armey wasn't just a cheerful conservative in public, he lived it. He was able to combine his love of country music and bass fishing to charm even some of the most hostile members of the media and to raise funds for disadvantaged kids in Washington. A champion of both economic and social conservative causes, Mr. Armey proved himself a great coalition-builder living up to the credo of over delivering, not over-promising.
Like the rodeo cowboy's ability to master the lariat to rope those 'lil doggies Mr. Armey is able to masterfully distill complex issues into simple concepts with one of his many Armey's Axioms. Before Bill Clinton acknowledged that the "era of big government was over" Mr. Armey knew that "the market is rational and the government is dumb." The landmark Republican Congress reform of welfare can't be fully appreciated unless you understand that "compassion without understanding can be cruel."
As Al Gore searches once again to reinvent himself, he'd be well served to see that a "New Democrat is a counterfeit conservative looking for work." These axioms and many like them sum up much of who Mr. Armey is. But perhaps most insightful is his view that "the most important responsibilities we undertake are personal. No one else can shoulder the burden for us, and indeed only in freedom do we come to realize they are not burdens at all."
Mr. Armey also had something else a faith in the American people. Like Ronald Reagan, and increasingly it seems with President Bush, Mr. Armey believed if we just gave the facts to America, she would respond. You see, Mr. Armey knew that America loves freedom and personal responsibility more than peace and security. Did he shatter a few sacred cows while he was here? Certainly. I often heard him say, "I don't recall during my oath of office swearing not to offend the liberal establishment."
Instead, like Gary Cooper in the famous Western, "High Noon," Mr. Armey knew that is was his duty to stand up on principle. And with his quick wit and charm he pushed for the things he believed in limited government, Texas values, a strong defense and lowering taxes. A line from Mr. Armey's book, "The Freedom Revolution," explains, however complex our modern debates might be amid all the jargon of programs and flow charts and policy options the issue remains quite simple: freedom. Mr. Armey truly understands that freedom works.
My heroes have always been cowboys, and they still are it seems.

Horace Cooper is a senior fellow with the Centre for New Black Leadership.

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