March 1, 2014

Don’t Just Stand There


“The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower

Ike said it pretty well. An earlier president was a bit saltier: “Elections belong to the people. … If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

Abraham Lincoln said that, and these days, it seems we are looking at the potential for a lot of blisters. You will hear me talk a lot about voting and getting involved in political issues and public policy in the days ahead for a very simple reason: Public policy has a direct impact on the private sector’s bottom line.

2014 is an election year. Which means that even if your senators and representatives are in so-called safe districts and sure of being re-elected, they are nevertheless campaigning and therefore out listening more than usual in their districts. And you may be quite surprised at how willing they are to accept an invitation to visit with you, come to your plants, look at your operations and hear what you have to say.

When I talk about this at chapter meetings and MSCI conferences around the country, I always ask for a show of hands to indicate how many of you have invited your political representatives to visit your plants and warehouses. Too few hands go up—which is remarkable and disappointing since almost all of you who have had politicians visit report that it was an invaluable educational experience.

The timing is exquisite because we are facing an unprecedented avalanche of new and often poorly devised laws and regulations that seem certain to impose significant new costs on our businesses. Hard numbers are all but impossible to come by. But from the steady drumbeat of anecdotes that I hear in my travels, new performance standards, reporting requirements and compliance obligations from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Dodd-Frank financial regulations (think conflict minerals) and the Affordable Care Act (among others) will impose expensive increases for all of us on our costs of doing business.

This is no time to allow skepticism, cynicism, indifference and disgust at a dysfunctional political environment to keep us silent. We are perfectly positioned to influence this election by making sure we vote and that we get out the vote. Understand that as business owners and executives, you are in an especially powerful position to exercise your obligation as a citizen and to make sure that your employees do so as well. The people who work with you need to hear from you, and they will listen. We would never suggest you tell them how to vote. But we do strongly suggest that you explain to your colleagues and associates in formal and informal settings how government policies will affect their jobs and their lives.

The people who work with and for you trust you to give them a straight story. Talk to them about the importance of voting, the importance of understanding where candidates and incumbents stand on issues, and make it easy for them to register and go to the polls. We can’t afford to let the Washington lobbyists and political operatives stand in for us. Look at where that strategy and those tactics have gotten us.

We can give you the tools, the talking points, the position papers, the one-page explainers, but you must do the work. Indeed, it is your obligation as a citizen of this country, as a businessperson engaged in building the economy of this country, to do so. On our website you’ll find Get Out the Vote (GOTV) material. Please download whatever you need to enhance the likelihood of a 100% voter participation rate within your company.

In this political climate, if we turn our backs on “the fire,” to use Lincoln’s words, we risk our businesses, our livelihoods and the future of this nation.