He ran as an independent and committed to only one term. Pundits dismissed him as a serious contender. But voters so disliked the major party candidates and were so eager for change that a slim majority decided to give Anderson a chance.
In his Inaugural Address, he said, “Over time, government has crept into every aspect of our lives. This is not what our founding fathers had in mind. We need to chart a new path. That begins with being clear about the rightful role of our government, what’s most important to us and what we’re willing to sacrifice.”
The next day, Anderson announced he would embark on a 50-day listening tour, attending town hall meetings in every state.
He said he wanted to hear what people wanted their government to do for them at the national level. Based on that, Anderson said he would set priorities and work with Congress to fund them.
The new President also said he wouldn’t hesitate to trim or cut programs that didn’t make the priority list. As a sign he was serious, he pledged to reduce federal government spending by five percent a year over each of the next four years.
Critics called Anderson’s approach “a dangerous new form of populism.” Special-interest groups were apoplectic. Congress was on edge.
But the people who spoke at the town halls, while sometimes passionate, were thoughtful in expressing their views.
State by state, themes began to emerge. At the conclusion of his tour, Anderson addressed the nation. His speech lasted less than a minute.
“My fellow Americans, you have spoken, and I am listening. You’ve been clear that you want your government to protect you and your rights, provide free health care for all, combat climate change and spend less. Next week, I’ll submit my recommendations accordingly to Congress and begin working with Congress to invest in our common priorities and cut spending. Thank you for sharing your views. Thank you for your trust.”
Anderson then worked with both houses of Congress to introduce and pass legislation to support the new national priorities and cut spending for everything else.
States took their cues from the federal government, taking charge of what they now had to own according to priorities they now had to set. Cities took their cues from the states. Choices, and the implications of those choices, became clear.
Not everyone was happy. Choosing is hard, and sacrifice is never easy. But as a whole, over the next four years, the nation was reinvigorated.
Anderson prepared to leave office. But in a democracy, citizens choose their leaders, and a majority of voters chose John Anderson to be their President again.