Dear candidates, yes, we can handle the truth!

Published 8:48 am Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A great movie is often made memorable by one line in one scene that keeps the public aware of the movie years after it was in theaters.

Who doesn’t think of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when they hear, “Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore?”. “Here’s looking at you, kid,” is the classic Humphrey Bogart line from Casablanca that I have known all my life, although it was spoken more than a decade before I was born.

Even the sappy movie, Love Story, was immortalized by the quote, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I can’t say I agree with that one, based on my own personal experiences.

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There is one quote, however, that I never tire of hearing. In the 1992 classic, A Few Good Men, Tom Cruise’s character, Lt. Danny Kaffee, is pressuring Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in court about the actions of his Marines during a “Code Red.”

Under intense pressure by Kaffee on the witness stand, Col. Jessup finally snaps and furiously replies, “You can’t handle the truth!”

In a scene with far less drama, but much greater potential impact, presidential candidate Mitt Romney named Congressman Paul Ryan to be his vice-presidential running mate. In doing so, he may have changed the tone and direction of this year’s presidential elections. We can only hope so.

Barack Obama brought a different style and mindset to presidential politics when he was running for office four years ago. He promised hope, reconciliation and a transparent and transformed government.

The young were energized by his smile and his apparent grasp of their problems. The old were reassured that he would look after them in their senior years. Those in the middle, like me, were hopeful that he would bring a new “Camelot” to our nation, just as John Kennedy did, with the belief that indeed anything was possible for our country.

Americans of all ages swept him into office with their hopes that he could change government. We wanted to believe again. That is why I punched the button by his name four years ago.

That is also why I am so disappointed when I see both campaigns sinking to all-time lows as they try to convince us why they should govern the next four years.

A campaign ad was shown with a Romney lookalike pushing an old woman in a wheelchair off a cliff, within minutes of Ryan’s announcement as a candidate. The implications are clear in the ad, although there are no facts to substantiate the charge.

Facts? Who has to bother with such a trivial concept when you can disassociate yourself from charges by stating that your campaign has nothing to do with the Super PACs that are responsible for the most outrageous allegations?

Both campaigns are taking the American people to be fools. In doing so, they don’t have to talk about the real issues facing this country. They would rather scare the wits out of the elderly than come up with a plan that actually works, difficult as that may be.

A long time political junkie and student of Sunday talk shows, I have wiped my hands clean of all of them. First, the commentators only ask questions of the candidates and their surrogates that are likely to support their networks’ own political persuasion.

Second, you are more likely to see a cow jump over the moon than to hear a straight answer to any honest and legitimate question.

It would be maddening if it were not just so sad. At a time when America’s deficit soars yearly more than $1 trillion, and when our health care system promises to bankrupt this nation as well as its business community, we respond with sound bites, innuendos and half-truths. I don’t care if Romney never paid a tax or if Obama was born on Mars. I care if they have a plan and the leadership qualities to lead this country back from the brink.

We are screaming for leadership and we are getting nothing. There isn’t an answer made by either campaign that is not tested, polled, and vetted ahead of time with polling and focus groups.

I am hopeful that we have a small window of opportunity to change the political debate in this country. We have less than three months to decide who wins in the most important presidential election of our lifetime.

The selection of Paul Ryan completes what is a very clear and distinct choice for this country. We can talk about soaring deficits, tax cuts and health care. We can talk about the best approach to providing the jobs that our country so desperately needs. We can get our process of electing our leaders out of the cesspool and into a thoughtful, meaningful debate.

The American public needs to know the truth about where we are and what is happening. We need to know that Medicare will likely be bankrupt, if we don’t do something. We need to know that the deficits are going to destroy this country, if we don’t do something.

We need honesty, not clever five-second sound bites. We need straight talk, not sidestepping answers. We need leadership, not grandstanding.

“You can’t handle the truth,” the arrogant Col. Jessup shouted when challenged. Is that really what our leaders think about us?

My guess is that the American people are finally ready to hear the truth. Only the heads of both tickets can change the dialogue and be brutally honest with the people they claim they want to serve. Only Romney and Obama can call off the dogs and talk frankly with the American people.

Only then, only when the candidates, surrogates and media are all brutally straight with us can we show them that we, the people, can in fact handle the truth.

Dan Ponder can be reached at