If you’ve ever seen the film, “A Few Good Men”, you probably remember the famous courtroom scene. 

A Marine commander, played by Jack Nicholson, is grilled on the witness stand in a military court martial trial revolving around an extreme “Code Red” punishment. Repeatedly badgered about whether he’d ordered the “Code Red”, Nicholson’s character is commanded to “tell the truth.” The overconfident commander explodes: “You can’t handle the truth!” This explosion is ultimately his undoing.

It’s hard not to wonder if the arrogance portrayed by Nicholson isn’t at play in the current reality-challenged political climate. Do politicians and other leaders shade or obliterate the truth because they somehow think we “can’t handle” it? Or are they so determined to win that they will say or do anything to get our votes?

Consider the recent battle in Washington over funding for the SAFER program. Elected leaders of both political parties loudly proclaim their love for firefighters. Yet, even as record-breaking wildfires swallowed up whole communities up and down the state, somehow Congress (as of this writing) just kind of let SAFER go away. Even if they find a way to bring it back, the message is clear: We don’t think you can handle the truth, so we’re just going to tell you what you want to hear, then quietly stick a knife in your back.

While there may have been a time when praise was enough, the stakes are too high in 2018. In the coming year, everything from our retirement security to our very existence as a union is at stake. We can no longer be content to take comfort from soothing words that aren’t backed by concrete action. 

More than once I’ve seen local candidates tell firefighters that “we will never demand more” pension contributions. Then, after winning the endorsement and the election, they come back a few months later, forgetting their promise, and “demand more” after all, muttering some excuse like “I just didn’t know.” In casting aside someone who was more honest with us, we essentially set ourselves up for betrayal. 

Next year we will have primaries and general elections across our state. We will read, hear and watch candidates “tell us what we want to hear” versus the truth in many instances. From city council races all the way up to our gubernatorial contest, firefighters will need to ask some hard questions of these would-be leaders. Will they be supportive and straight with us? Or will they, like a child avoiding punishment, tell us only what they think we want to hear?

I, for one, believe our future depends on our willingness to be clear-eyed in our judgments and hold our leaders accountable. There are lots of candidates who will butter us up. This year, though, kind words aren’t enough. We need leaders who will tell us the truth.

Trust me, we can handle it.