The value of level-headed leveling

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Every politician stretches the blanket just a bit. Some make it an art form. In the 2016 presidential election, we have two major party candidates who are — to put it delicately — frequent fibbers.

From Hillary Clinton doubling down on her email server whoppers to Donald Trump’s insufferable braggadocio and questionable recollections, we’ve got a couple of real storytellers on our hands. Like a fisherman with a gift for describing the one that got away, they would both be somewhat amusing if they weren’t seeking the highest office in the land.

The reason I take presidential honesty seriously is because the first president I witnessed was Richard Nixon. During the infamous Watergate scandal Nixon lied his way into such a corner that he had to resign from office or face certain impeachment. I’ve seen just about every president since Nixon get into hot water because they weren’t completely forthright, and the sad thing is that it’s so unnecessary. Most Americans understand that things occasionally go wrong even in the most successful presidencies, so why prolong the agony with deception?

Case in point: John F. Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba. The ill-fated invasion occurred early in his presidency, and if he had handled it differently, by lying or throwing national security agencies under the bus instead of taking full responsibility, he might not have been able to adroitly handle another emergency that occurred 18 months later — the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest we ever came to a nuclear war.

Kennedy stood in the White House press room, a throng of reporters peppering him with tough questions, taking full responsibility for a calamity that would ensure the survival of the Castro regime. Even though he privately believed that certain agencies had let him down, most notably the Central Intelligence Agency, he took the blame and the grilling.

Guess what happened next? His already high public approval rating actually climbed higher!

Why? This was the Cold War and the American people wisely did not want to undermine their young president as he dealt with formidable enemies such as Castro and Nikita Khrushchev of the former Soviet Union. They also appreciated being leveled with.

The trust Kennedy built by leveling with us helped him deal with the ultimate crisis. The presidential candidates should do the same. They might just shock us right out of our cynicism.

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