Journalist Charley Reese (now retired) was part of the Orlando Sentinel‘s staff for three decades between 1971-2001, during which time he (among other duties) penned a thrice-weekly column which was distributed to other newspapers nationwide by King Features Syndicate. During the 1980s Reese wrote the first version of an editorial opining that 545 people (i.e., the President of the United States, plus all the members of Congress and the Supreme Court) “are directly, legally, morally and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country,” and he has amended, updated, and republished that piece several times since then. The version cited above is taken from the 7 March 1995 edition of the Orlando Sentinel, where it ran under the title “Looking for Someone to Blame? Congress Is a Good Place to Start.”
By way of comparison, here is another version of Reese’s piece, as it appeared in 1985:
Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.
Have you ever wondered why, if both the Democrats and Republicans are against deficits, we have deficits? Have you ever wondered why if all politicians are against inflation and high taxes, we have inflation and high taxes?
You and I don’t propose a federal budget. The president does. You and I don’t have Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does. You and I don’t write the tax code. Congress does. You and I don’t set fiscal policy. Congress does. You and I don’t control monetary policy. The Federal Reserve Bank does.
One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president and nine Supreme Court justices — 545 human beings out of 235 million — are directly, legally, morally and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.
I excused the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered by private central bank.
I exclude all of the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman or a president to do one cotton-picking thing. I don’t care if they offer a politician $1 million in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it.
No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislators’ responsibility to determine how he votes.
Don’t you see the con game that is played on the people by the politicians? Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party.
What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of Tip O’Neill, who stood up and criticized Ronald Reagan for creating deficits.
The president can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it. The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating appropriations and taxes.
Those 545 people and they alone are responsible. They and they alone should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses — provided they have the gumption to manage their own employees.
In 2008, Reese’s editorial was updated with some topical political references (e.g., Nancy Pelosi’s name in place of Tip O’Neill’s; the Army and Marines listed as being in Iraq rather than on “U.N. Missions”) and circulated via e-mail under the title “The 545 People Responsible for America’s Woes” (or just “545 People), often with additional material not written by Reese himself tacked onto the beginning or end of the article.
Reese died on 21 May 2013. He wrote his actual final column in August 2008:
The great advantage of a free society is the capacity to self-correct itself. You’d think dictators would have figured that out, but if they are not paranoid when they seize power, they become so trying to hang on to power.
Well, enough random thoughts. My goal as a columnist has always been to stimulate and, if necessary, provoke people into thinking for themselves. If we fail to do that, a free society won’t last. I wish you all a fond farewell.
Reese, Charley. “Looking for Someone to Blame? Congress Is a Good Place to Start.”
Orlando Sentinel. 7 March 1995 (p. A8).
The Stonewall County Courier. “545 People Responsible for Country’s Problems.”
19 September 1985 (p. 1).