In 2005, I was speaking to a group of teachers, students, administrators and alumni at the Penn State Forum. During the Q&A that followed, one audience member asked, “if you only had five minutes to speak with the president of the United States, what would you tell him?”
“Only five minutes?” I said.
Even though I had not meant it as a joke, everyone laughed.
At the time, George W. Bush occupied the White House and one issue consumed the news cycle. While I can’t remember the issue, Bush’s response to questions from the media was a perfect example of beating around the bush, (no pun intended). The president and White House spokespeople were trying to spin their way around a straightforward question—a question people wanted to be answered.
Faced with the Penn State question, here’s what I would tell President Bush:
“Just tell us the truth. If things did not go as planned, just tell us and then talk about a new plan.”
Most Americans can handle the truth. What they can’t handle, what they can’t accept is a leader who either responds with a fog of words or, in our current context, lies.
Despite slips, most of us strive to be honest in words and actions. I just wish all politicians could adopt the same attitude.
Late into the evening on Tuesday, it quickly appeared that California Governor Gavin Newsom would not be recalled from office. The recall effort came about because Newsom kept shifting his policy regarding health restrictions during the ongoing Covid crisis. Following official health guidelines, he required businesses to close, only to reopen after guidelines had shifted. When the virus began to expand, he required businesses to close, again. All this took a massive toll on businesses, workers and the economy.
However, the tipping point came when a photo circulated of Newsom and his family having dinner at an upscale restaurant in Napa, California. Everyone, including Newsom, were not wearing masks or properly spaced apart, all apparently without the slightest regard for the restrictions Newsom, himself, put in place. The whole episode clearly demonstrated that there were two standards, Newsom’s and the rest of California.
At his speech Tuesday evening, while he was grateful to supporters who turned out in record numbers, not once did he mention lessons learned from his double-standard or that in the future, he would strive to do more listening to constituents, even those who didn’t vote for him.
Here’s my point.
Politicians occupy a different biosphere than the rest of us, and part of this is understandable. They’re charged with looking out for the best interests of millions of citizens. They’re tasked with making difficult decisions, sometimes rapidly reversing course. While Newsom did explain his decision-making throughout much of the last 14 months, he fell short. Leaders are supposed to be the example not the exception.
Concerning a House panel investigating the January 6 insurrection, minority leader Kevin McCarthy warned “If these (telecom and internet) companies comply with the Democrat order to turn over private information, they are in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States.”
McCarthy’s assertion is blatantly false and if he wasn’t unaware of it, he should have checked with constitutional attorneys.
Just tell us the truth, Mr. Minority Leader.
A September 15, 2021 Instagram post said that a CNN broadcast shows “400,000 votes just disappeared” in the California recall election. False.
While this is unlikely to happen, anyone using social media needs to check reputable sources and just tell the truth. People who post bogus messages tend to heavily rely on the false notion of safety in numbers and rationalization: everyone else is doing it, so it can’t be wrong; you have to fight fire with fire.
In 2016, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared “The fact is voter fraud is rampant.”
Just tell the truth, governor.
Republican Representative Andy Clyde characterized the January 6th insurrection and break-in of the Capitol as a “normal tourist visit.”
Really, Andy? Really? Where were you when the “tourists” were just visiting the Capitol building?
Tell the truth, Congressman.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer:
“All” Americans in Afghanistan who “have wanted to come out have come out.”
Chuck, you’re the Senate Majority leader. You have access to the highest level of military information. How difficult is it to just tell us the truth?
In a 2014 press conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the Supreme Court is “five guys who start determining what contraceptions are legal.”
Nancy, you’re the speaker of the House of Representatives! Just tell us the truth.
In what can only be described as the most egregious action taken by US Senators and Representatives seen in more than 100 years, 147 Republicans voted to overturn the 2020 election based on unproven allegations of voter fraud.
Senators, Representatives… Just tell the country the truth. And if you’re incapable of doing that, then step aside and let someone who is willing to speak the truth take your place.
I realize that responsible political leadership is no easy task. No officeholder is ever going to satisfy everyone. But he or she should do one thing: Just tell the truth. No matter how bad the news may be; no matter if your decision-making proves unpopular—look at Republican Senator Mitt Romney’s vote to impeach President Trump—just tell us the truth.