You Can’t Handle the Truth

In this week’s Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan calls attention to two politicians — Indiana governor Mitch Daniels and New Jersey governor Chris Christie — for their demonstration of leadership.

I bristle at the idea of referring to politicians as leaders — even the guys I think I like.   But, then again, my idea of leadership and politicians is probably different than most, though subjects of other blog posts.

Nevertheless, I  admit that I appreciate politicians who can deliver true and politically unpopular messages.  I especially liked Governor Christie’s:

He [Christie] introduced pension and benefit reforms on a Tuesday in September, and that Friday he went to the state firefighters convention in Wildwood. It was 2 p.m., and “I think you know what they had for lunch.” Mr. Christie had proposed raising their retirement age, eliminating the cost-of-living adjustment, increasing employee pension contributions, and rolling back a 9% pay increase approved years before “by a Republican governor and a Republican Legislature.”

As Mr. Christie recounted it: “You can imagine how that was received by 7,500 firefighters. As I walked into the room and was introduced. I was booed lustily. I made my way up to the stage, they booed some more. . . . So I said, ‘Come on, you can do better than that,’ and they did!”

He crumpled up his prepared remarks and threw them on the floor. He told them, “Here’s the deal: I understand you’re angry, and I understand you’re frustrated, and I understand you feel deceived and betrayed.” And, he said, they were right: “For 20 years, governors have come into this room and lied to you, promised you benefits that they had no way of paying for, making promises they knew they couldn’t keep, and just hoping that they wouldn’t be the man or women left holding the bag. I understand why you feel angry and betrayed and deceived by those people. Here’s what I don’t understand. Why are you booing the first guy who came in here and told you the truth?”

The standard template of a politician is to deliver good news and avoid delivering bad news.  That’s goes for public and private politics.  I’ve witnessed it in private organizations.  It’s always fun to see the politicians scatter with bad news.

It’s refreshing to see a politician willing to give bad news.



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