Of Congressional Candidate Steve Lonegan, Conqueror Of Kilimanjaro

By Ralph Benko
Forbes.com

“Oh no!” I can almost hear you thinking. “Not an election column a full year out from the 2018 general election!”

I feel you. But Oh Yes!

Congressional aspirant Steve Lonegan is interesting. His candidacy is unusual, and, just possibly, consequential. This is not just another “horserace” column.

Lonegan and I worked together professionally, years ago, conjoined by our mutual high regard for the gold standard. Gold does not appear on his uninteresting website as a campaign issue. (Nor should it. It’s certainly not a money magnet for donors.) And I’ve occasionally appeared on Lonegan’s radio show.

What makes Lonegan interesting is the potential he holds to change the course of history. Rarely does a Congressman do that. That said, history-changing events, when they happen, often start with a Congressman. Follow along.

Who is Steve Lonegan? Recently, the National Republican Campaign Committee issued its list of 31 “Young Gun’s"(sic), drawing attention to some Congressional candidates who “are formidable competitors against the liberal agenda of Nancy Pelosi and the left,” said NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers….”

What makes Lonegan really interesting is that he is an authentic outlier.

Malcolm Gladwell’s website about his wonderful book Outliers: The Story of Success describes it as “a fascinating and provocative blueprint for making the most of human potential” that “transforms the way we understand success.” Gladwell focuses in on outliers such as The Beatles, Bill Gates, and J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Also, when political transformation happens it has almost always begun with an outlier Member ofCongress.

Yes, campaign bombast always presents a Congressional race as of Existential! Importance! This is almost never true. Except on the rare occasion when it is.

Newly-minted Members of Congress almost inevitably subside into the "Gang of 435." And are rarely heard from again. Many people would have a hard time picking their own Representative out of a police lineup.

A few will emerge into national prominence. Fewer will rise to historic significance.

Insignificant, except for once in a blue moon when an outlier gets elected to Congress and rocks the world. This has happened exactly twice in my lifetime. Those outliers were Rep. Jack Kemp, who restored America (and the world) to prosperity, and Rep. Charlie Wilson who won the Cold War.

I have referred to them, here, as “wild deuces,” low numbered cards who trumped the CongressionalAces. “The wild deuce trumps. These two extraordinary men transformed the world.”

Rep. Jack Kemp confronted the economic stagnation of his day by inverting the conventional economic policy of high tax rates and “easy money” to low tax rates and stable monetary policy, Supply-Side Economics. This proposition was initially ridiculed but Kemp crusaded on it fearlessly and tirelessly. It was eventually taken up by Reagan, and then by other international leaders, propelling the world GDP from $10T to $73T.

Rep. Charlie Wilson, under the inspiration and strategic guidance of the great Joanne King Herring, initiated the actions that -- demonstrably -- brought about American victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War by equipping the Afghan Freedom Fighters to repel the Soviet invasion. Very shortly after that repulsion, the USSR dissolved itself.

Both Kemp and Wilson proved themselves history-shaking outliers.

Lonegan has the potential to prove himself just such a wild deuce.

Why Lonegan? My favorite anecdote about him is summed up at the Wikipedia: “In December 2015, Steve took three weeks to travel to Tanzania, Africa where, on December 17, he successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the highest mountains in the world.”

As Empire State News put it:

Only 18 months ago, Lonegan, at 59-years-old, climbed one the world’s most formidable and steepest mountains, Mount Kilimanjaro. The highest mountain in Africa, it is located in Tanzania, and is the holder of three dormant volcanos. Lonegan, joined by a crew of 12 people, endured the most volatile of weather and dangerous climbing conditions, to ascend this historic geographic site.

This accomplishment is impressive for a 20-something, trained mountain climber. For a man who has no formal training in this area, it is an aberrational feat.


Kilimanjaro has claimed many lives. Wikipedia:

According to the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi, 25 people died from January 1996 to October 2003 while climbing the mountain. Seventeen were female and eight were male, ranging in age from 29 to 74.

Not for the faint of heart.

And what is most extraordinary about Lonegan's climbing the highest mountain in Africa?

Steve Lonegan is legally blind. Yet he doesn't play it safe.

This is the kind of guts it takes to take on the Establishment.

Lonegan really is an outlier. He demonstrates the potential of taking the Congressional bull by the horns and transforming the world. Few other Members of Congress, or candidates, offer that possibility.

Lonegan served as mayor of the town of Bogota, NJ from 1994 to 2007, retiring from that office because, he claimed, of a belief in term limits. Lonegan reportedly did a fine job as mayor, consistently cutting taxes while maintaining public services, a Republican getting himself re-elected by healthy margins in a majority Democratic city.

Competence doesn't make him very interesting. There are plenty of competent mayors out there.

Thereafter he became a professional firebrand, working as the New Jersey state director for Americans for Prosperity and, later -- when we were professionally associated -- as the Director of Monetary Policy for the American Principles Project.

After leaving the position of mayor he ran, repeatedly, for statewide office. He was an unsuccessful aspirant for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2005 and again in 2009 where he fell just short of Chris Christie for the nomination. He became the Republican nominee for US Senate to fill the late Frank Lautenberg’s seat in 2013, falling just short of Cory Booker in the general election.

That by itself doesn't make him very interesting. “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

Competence and drive are fine qualities. They are not, however, particularly extraordinary.

Nor do I -- a rock-ribbed full-spectrum archconservative -- find his rock-ribbed full-spectrum archconservative activism all that interesting. Yes, Lonegan has proved his chops as a political provocateur. That's not very interesting.

What makes Steve Lonegan interesting and, possibly, relevant to you and to America is that he is an outlier. He will not fade into the crowd.

The current incumbent for the seat Lonegan seeks, Josh Gottheimer (D–Wyckoff), has faded into the crowd.

Rep. Gottheimer describes himself on his official website as “Co-Chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, where he brings Members together across party lines….” He has, like most Members ofCongress, disappeared into the House of Representatives, barely distinguishable. 

How did he disappear? Because “bringing Members together across party lines” is not how you transform the world. 

Nobody remembers the names of the astronomers, however distinguished, who followed Ptolemy in believing that the Sun revolves around the Earth. 

We remember, and celebrate, Copernicus: an outlier.

Bipartisanship is a recipe for irrelevance. I am unaware of a single problem the Problem Solvers Caucus has solved. That’s just not how Congress, when it works, works. Politics is about hard competition over who, and whose policies, can serve America best. It's rarely about collaboration.

Congress becomes effective when one Member discovers a great policy idea and crusades on it in the face of opposition and even ridicule until it becomes the new conventional wisdom. Jack Kemp did that. Charlie Wilson did that. They thereby transformed the world.

Lonegan, like Kemp and Wilson, is an outlier.

If elected Lonegan could just end up a mere “son of a gun,” running around giving Leadership hotfoots. Yet, Lonegan is the sort of character capable of ramming through a new Big Idea that changes the course of history.

Lonegan has the potential of proving himself one of those wild deuces capable of recognizing a great idea, crusading on it, mounting the political summit and thereby transforming the world. Would he?

Be interesting to find out.

Yes, it’s early to be thinking about the November 2018 elections.

It's certainly not too early to find his race interesting.

What might Steve Lonegan, who conquered Kilimanjaro, accomplish if elected to Congress?

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Steve Lonegan for Congress