While serving as President, John F. Kennedy was asked, “How do you make good decisions when presented with huge amounts of information from your advisors who want you to approve their position on any given issue.” JFK’s answer was succinct and insightful. “I always ask, what am I not being told?”.
Two recent developments in Washington DC should be of deep concern to all Americans who care about transparency and openness in government and who are not getting answers to the question — what am I not being told?
One deeply concerning development was a decision by John Fetterman to voluntarily commit himself to a hospital to address chronic deep depression that he and others have publicly acknowledged is impacting the performance of his duties as a United States Senator from Pennsylvania. We now know depression has been a long-term issue for Senator Fetterman, made worse by a debilitating stroke he suffered on the campaign trail. We also know now that his inpatient hospital treatment may take up to a month without guarantee that it or other complications from his stroke may recur. Most concerning is the fact that he and many others, including his campaign staff, knew about his depression issues and stroke after- effects well before his election. Hiding truth simply to gain and keep power by intentional subterfuges is wrong and always will be.
The second deeply concerning development was the recent release of physical exam results for President Biden. That release did not include results from a cognitive examination or say if such an exam was even performed. We heard a much heralded “clean” bill of health for President Biden. But every president’s cognitive ability (or lack thereof) should also be a matter of transparency and openness.
Before I go any further, I want to address what I expect may be negative responses to this commentary.
I expect some may say I am insensitive to and uncaring about those who suffer from mental health issues. Not so. I spent nine long years watching my father slowly and steadily being ravaged by dementia. In his final years, he did not recognize me or remember me. As a result of his condition, I was forced to take his car from him and place him in an assisted living facility. Even toward the end of his life, he adamantly expressed his belief that he was doing fine and needed both his car and to stay in his home. It was challenging to stand firm in doing what was best for him; but it had to be done, and I did it, albeit with a very heavy heart.
I also expect some to say my concerns about Senator Fetterman and President Biden are driven by opposition to their political party affiliation and/or their progressive views on issues of the day. Not so. I had the same concerns with at least two conservative Republicans as well. One was Republican U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond. In his final years in the Senate, Thurmond was not in a condition physically or mentally to make good decisions.
The second was conservative icon and Republican President Ronald Reagan. In President Reagan’s twilight years in the White House, there was speculation (never fully confirmed) that he had early onset dementia. Regarding both men, I said then, as I say now, America is best served if any elected official or candidate who cannot perform well on a cognitive abilities test, should not run for office, or remain in office regardless of their political party affiliation, their popularity, or their positions on issues. What matters most is their ability to fully perform all the duties of the job they were elected to do.
I expect some may say I am advocating the premature removal from office of a President and/or a U.S. Senator. Not so. I am suggesting our political leaders have the courage to engage in candid dialogue and deliberations on these matters so they can make informed decisions for the good of America rather than decisions that maintain positions of power for certain elected officials.
Last, but not least, I expect some may say President Biden or Senator Fetterman leaving office before their term is up thwarts the will of the voters who voted for Democrat control of the U.S. Senate and the White House. Not so. The progressive Democrat governor of Pennsylvania would appoint another progressive Democrat to replace Senator Fetterman and progressive Democrat Vice President Harris would automatically replace progressive Democrat President Biden.
Now more than ever, we live in a “VUCA” world, one characterized by high levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Accordingly, we need to confirm our President, our U.S. Senators, and all elected officials are at the very top of their game all day … every day. It bears repeating. Hiding the truth simply to keep power by intentional subterfuges is not right and never will be.
It is a time to get truthful and complete answers to the question — what am I not being told?
David Reel is a longtime observer of ever-changing events in the political arena. He is a public affairs/public relations consultant who serves as a trusted advisor on strategy, advocacy, and media matters.