The former U.S. president known for his blunt spoken candor, Harry Truman, once advised that in the political season, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.”
I have been asked to talk about the 2014 election to several Minnesota groups recently, including some seniors in Bloomington, women professionals in Minneapolis and a group of radio-TV managers in St. Paul.
In preparation for each talk, I tried to bring relevance and clarity but noted that the presentations did not generate much enthusiasm as what needs to be done is tough medicine.
A businessman with a Republican pedigree, my basic talk emphasized that I was now more a “post-partisan” than an activist.
I described Republicans as devoted to individual rights, local initiative, and common-sense fiscal policy, often emphasizing private-sector markets to drive the economy and society.
Democrats, I said, most often sought the collective good for people largely through government action to address our many challenges.
Each political party had good people who believed in our state and nation and recognized that effective, bipartisan policies needed to include both a “head and a heart.”
Deficit and debt
By far the most important issue confronting us today, I said, was the largely uncontrolled annual federal deficit and longer-term debt, now pushing $18T and growing by over $1T a year, creating a catastrophic threat to our security and economy. I recommended a careful look at the bipartisan group “Fix the Debt” and their citizens’ petition with more than 400,000 names on it. A volunteer for Fix the Debt, I told of joining with former U.S. House Budget Chair Martin O. Sabo, D-Minnesota, to brainstorm about a can-do plan that, over time, moved the nation toward black ink — as we were as recently as the year 2000.
The ability to recognize and plan for such fiscal integrity, I said, should consider both reductions in the growth of spending, including entitlements, and increased taxes. Neither represented popular positions with elected officials seeking re-election this year, I conceded, and said that voters themselves had to demand that the issue be comprehensively addressed by the White House and Congress.
Youngest citizens must be prepared to succeed
The future workers of America and Minnesota need to be well trained and prepared for the changing economy, I said, and reported that Minnesota Chamber research confirms that a vast majority of our state’s businesses lack confidence in finding future workers to allow them to grow and prosper.
A big part of assuring the future work force is the success of our nation’s very youngest citizens, about half of whom start kindergarten not fully prepared to succeed and about a quarter of whom, research tells us, never do catch up. “We can’t have a winning team on the job with one in four of our kids sitting on the bench,” I told my listeners.
We need to start early, focus on kids learning to read and write by third grade and then engage — perhaps involving many of our most plentiful baby boomer adults — as long-term mentors. Many at-risk young people need such support to the age of 25 and beyond.
Understand the value of consensus building
Last, I emphasized that our nation’s political insiders from both major political parties know how to win elections, but many elected officials today seem to lack necessary skills to govern wisely and well. They are often distracted by irrelevant issues or gamesmanship, I said.
Voters should consider choosing elected leaders who understand the value of working together, building consensus on what is really important. Complicated issues such as immigration reform, clean air and water, and America’s role in a changing world cannot and will not be solved in a partisan manner.
Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm; he is a former state chair of Minnesota Republicans and was once executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. E-mail: Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.)