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The risk of telling the truth

This country is fast becoming dysfunctional. Government doesn’t seem to work, we’re accumulating huge deficits, the financial system is a mess, and unemployment has exploded.

There was a time not too long ago when we believed we could overcome our problems. Somehow our leaders would come up with solutions that would assure our continued progress. Now other nations question our stability. Many doubt we have the will to address the many problems that confront us. Even supporters are losing confidence in the Obama Administration.

Bipartisanship is a joke. Many Republican leaders want the president to fail; they are more interested in scoring points against him than compromising for the common good. The good will that formed an essential underpinning to our democratic system is fast eroding.

It’s being stripped away by talk show blather, self interest, special interests, and the all-important political survival. Lost in the maelstrom of ego and money is the national interest. There was a time when Republicans and Democrats could sit down together and fashion important legislation. Back then, “cooperation” was not viewed as “surrender.”

We are far better able to react to external threats to our prosperity and freedom than to internal problems that carry the seeds of our self-destruction. Like an iceberg, we float on the surface only 10 percent exposed while our real problem is the 90 percent below the surface; not readily visible and more difficult to reach.

The solution will likely require reduced benefits, or increased taxes, or both, and these are issues that neither party wishes to confront; the Democrats are reluctant to consider program reductions and the Republicans spurn any notion of tax reform.
Staying in office at all costs is the overriding consideration and it makes office holders risk-averse. Facing the truth and doing what’s right regardless of the political costs is as rare today as diamonds at Home Depot.

The size of government and complexity of important legislation also contributes to political stalemate. It becomes easy to distort the content and efficacy of comprehensive legislation like health care reform.

At the heart of the problem is the risk of telling the truth. The truth may set you free but at the same time end your political career. Politicians believe people don’t want to hear truth if it is distressing and likely to require sacrifice. They are concerned the messenger will be the first thing sacrificed.

That may not be true. While not all agree on what they are, the public is aware that this nation faces serious problems. We always have been capable of confronting external threats. They are more apparent.

Are we incapable of facing internal threats that in the long run may be more destructive – if not to us, to our children and grandchildren? Parents and grandparents sacrifice for their children and grandchildren every day; there is no stronger bond.

I believe that if a strong leader came forward with an honest and clear explanation of the risks to the welfare of succeeding generations, the public would respond favorably. The public understands that you can’t do it all and have it all; you have to establish priorities. You shouldn’t spend money you don’t have and leave the debt to your children.

If our democracy is to survive, we have to take the chance that honest, truthful, and cooperative politicians can survive despite occasionally having to tell constituents things they would prefer not to hear and passing laws that require sacrifice.

We must take the chance that there are enough grownups out there who want to hear the truth and will respect the political courage of those who refuse to pander to them. We should expect more of our leaders while recognizing in return they may require more of us.

James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.