The “Common Con:” 1984 Wisdom Still Relevant

Charley Reese

Charley Reese

While one could argue that the gap between Democrats and Republicans in Washington has never been greater than now, they are still very united in what the late Orlando Sentinel columnist Charley Reese (picture courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel) called the “common con.”

In his February 3, 1984 column, titled “545 people are responsible for the mess, but they unite in a common con,” Reese writes: “One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president, and nine Supreme Court justices – 545 human beings out of 238 million – are directly, legally, morally and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.”


While a conservative himself, Reese charged  legislators on both sides of the aisle with collaborating in   this Common Con. He writes, “Don’t you see now 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.”

Reese claims that our politicians are the only people who campaign against problems that they themselves created. He then warns his readers, “Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take it. Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exist disembodied mystical forces like the economy, inflation, or politics that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do.”

Doesn’t this aberrant behavior seem like a bunch of adolescents without any adult supervision? A case could be made for this being a great starting spot for The Great Growing Up. 

An interesting backstory: Reese amended, updated, and republished this column several times before retiring in 2001, changing names and numbers to fit the times. He and his publisher thought the column “had legs” and could be as provocative in later years as it had been in 1984. 

Things in Washington today are certainly no better than they were in 1984. In fact, one could make a good case that the Common Con is even more shameful now than it was back then. 

John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

Mini Keynote Archives