March 20, 2008


“If … the people are fit for self-government—if, in other words, our talk and our institutions are not shams—we will get good government. I do not contend that my theory will automatically bring good government. I do contend that it will enable us to get as good a government as we deserve…”
—Theodore Roosevelt “An Autobiography,” 1913

What can be usefully added to the quadrillions of words already expended in this U.S. presidential election season? What insights can we gain from the last two years of active campaigning for the major party nominations, or from all the analysis that has followed?

I believe there are three lessons all of us can take to heart and use to guide our thinking, be we Democrats, Republicans or independents.

First, we’ve seen there is far too much talk and far too little accountability required of the presidential candidates. I don’t mean just the scorecard-style accountability that various groups attach to voting records, although those records can help evaluate how well candidates do what they say they will do. No, what I mean is we don’t sufficiently press presidential candidates to explain how their ideas might be implemented—the details of their plans for such vitally important issues as tax policy, labor relations, judicial appointments, greenhouse gas controls, LIFO accounting and more.

Those of us in the pro-manufacturing camp last had the gap between rhetoric and action demonstrated vividly for us in the contrast between the Congressional majority’s stated intentions on manufacturing and trade, and what actually has been done: nothing. Now, while the campaigns are hot, is the time to press for substance, not just campaign rhetoric. Don’t let candidates get away with vague assurances when specific plans and real promises are required. Demand more.

Second, we’ve seen it is still possible to interest American voters in the course of their democracy. Voter numbers are way up; participation is overflowing in caucus states. With no presidential or vice presidential incumbent a candidate, we’ve been witness to an open contest that party bosses can’t really control. This is good for the future of our government, no matter the final outcome.

Third, there remains a very pronounced need for the business community to participate actively in this election. Whether you are for or against tax increases, Democrats have made it clear they want to raise taxes once George Bush is out of office. Barack Obama is among the more liberal candidates to gain widespread popularity in many years. Hillary Clinton seems, like Bill, to be more of a centrist, one wedded to the outcome of opinion polls. John McCain really is a maverick who some Republicans have been slow to embrace.

Each of these candidates, regardless of their personal preferences, has to govern the whole of the United States. Each needs to understand why our manufacturing base is so important and, equally, why that base is endangered today. Each must understand the role that taxes, regulation, enforcement styles, labor laws and environmental legislation play in the competitiveness of U.S. industry.

That happens only when you and your employees get directly involved, speak your mind and make your case. Change is coming, perhaps major change. I encourage all of you to do your part to help shape change. Let’s do what we can to secure, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “as good a government as we deserve.”