May 1, 2014

Why Can’t They Handle the Truth?

“Insight is the act of seeing the underlying truth to solve a problem.”

Like me, you may be struck at times by a slogan, a sign or an ad that you encounter in your travels—a phrase that perhaps speaks profoundly, beyond its purpose to simply call attention to its sponsor. When I saw that quote, as I was waiting for my plane home from Kansas City, it resonated for me as a particularly powerful definition of the kind of insight that seems to be so lacking in Washington these days.

The men and women who walk the halls of political power, who seem hardly embarrassed that they do little or nothing to earn the money we pay them, have now become incapable of developing the insight that comes from dealing with the truths, the facts, the thoughtful proposed solutions that would enable them to solve our most pressing national problems.

It hardly matters what problem tops the list. It may be tax reform, mindless regulation, health care, education or immigration. Unfortunately, perhaps even tragically, political analysts are telling us that regardless of who narrowly controls the House and the Senate at the end of this year, or who sits in the White House after 2016, this abject failure to move and manage the country with thoughtful, fact-based solutions will continue for the foreseeable future.

This country does not lack innovative, intelligent thinking. It does not lack well-focused research and proposals aimed at our serious problems. It lacks a solution-motivated political environment and politicians with the courage, integrity and sense of public purpose to weigh facts, confront truths and develop programs to move the nation forward.

Jack Nicholson, powerfully portraying Col. Nathan Jessup of the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1992 Academy Award-nominated film A Few Good Men, memorably explodes under cross-examination during a tense court-martial. “You can’t handle the truth,” he thunders at Tom Cruise, who plays prosecutor Lt. Daniel Kaffee, pointing to Kaffee’s inability to appreciate a set of values that Jessup holds dear.

Once upon a time in this country, we valued a political process that produced compromised but real solutions to problems that often seemed intractable. Those values, which helped build the greatest economic, military and social power in modern history, seem to have slipped from our grasp. Today, the men and women who supposedly represent us in Congress—from one end of the political spectrum to the other—are content to settle for obstruction, for meaningless slogans and even for hatred.

Once upon a time in this country, we valued a political process that produced compromised but real solutions to problems that often seemed intractable.


The business community watches this paralytic performance in astonishment. Fortunately, the most astute of our business leaders are steering their companies through this mess. They understand that there may be some new regulation by fiat from the White House. But they also see clearly that no new “grand bargain” legislation on the issues that matter to them will be forthcoming from this or almost certainly the next Congress.

That sad truth is not keeping leaders in the metals and the rest of our nation’s industries from moving forward. We see them handling the truth about our political paralysis and refusing to stand still, using the latest research and intelligence to develop powerful solutions for their businesses.

I do not know what will wake our somnolent politicians to the task at hand. I do know that we must stay involved in Washington, that we have an insightful story to tell about how business handles the facts of commercial life. Politicians may not be able to handle the truths of our national predicament for now. But we can and do each day. That is called leadership.