The first declared candidate for president in 2020 delivers a passionate call for bipartisan action, entrepreneurial innovation, and a renewed commitment to the American idea
The son of a union electrician and grandson of an immigrant, John K. Delaney grew up believing that anything was possible in America. Before he was fifty, he founded, built and then sold two companies worth billions of dollars. Driven by a deep desire to serve, in 2012 he stepped away from his businesses, ran for Congress, and won. Now he has a new mission: unifying our terribly divided nation and guiding it to a brighter future.
As a boy, Delaney learned the importance of working hard, telling the truth and embracing compromise. As an entrepreneur, he succeeded because he understood the need to ensure opportunity for all, focus on the future, and think creatively about problem-solving. In these pages, he illustrates the potency of these principles with vivid stories from his childhood, his career in business, his family, and his new life as a politician. He also writes candidly about the often frustrating experience of working on Capitol Hill, where many of his colleagues care more about scoring political points than improving the lives of their fellow Americans. With a clear eye and an open heart, he explains that only by seeing both sides of anargument and releasing our inner entrepreneur can we get back to constructive, enlightened governing.
Seventy years ago, John F. Kennedy appealed to our best instincts when he said, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer.” In this inspiring book, John K. Delaney asks all of us to cast aside destructive, partisan thinking and join him in an urgent endeavor: working together to forge a new era of American greatness.
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About the Author
John K. Delaney, the United States Representative for Maryland's 6th congressional district, was one of America’s most innovative and successful entrepreneurs before he entered politics. The co-founder and CEO of two companies, HealthCare Financial and CapitalSource, both of which were ultimately sold for enormous sums, he is an active philanthropist. A Democrat who is now in his third term in Congress, he was recently named by Fortune magazine as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. He and his wife April have four daughters and live in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Read an Excerpt
Tell the Truth
The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.
In the weeks following President Trump's inauguration in January 2017, many of us felt like America was being torn in half. In response to the new president's divisive policies and hurtful rhetoric, protest marches and demonstrations broke out, pundits screamed at one another on TV, and the "Resist" movement began gathering steam. People across the country demanded town hall–style meetings so they could tell their elected officials exactly where they thought our nation was headed. Some politicians agreed to face their constituents, but many refused, deciding it would be best to wait out the furor.
That February, I was scheduled to speak at an event for senior citizens in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The previous fall, I had been reelected by a comfortable margin, and now I was starting my third term as the U.S. representative for Maryland's Sixth District. The event, which we'd scheduled months ago, was a workshop where seniors could get practical help and advice on topics such as Social Security and Medicare eligibility and programs. We hadn't planned it as a town hall event, but because of the way things were going it had the potential to turn into one.
We were expecting about three hundred attendees and, given the topic and the particular location, I knew the audience would lean very liberal. I planned to open the workshop by telling the crowd about a bipartisan bill I was cosponsoring, which would set up a bipartisan commission aimed at extending the fiscal health of Social Security for seventy-five years, an issue that's very important to me. The bill follows a model employed by Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill in the early 1980s, when they successfully extended the fiscal health of Social Security for fifty years; since the passage of their bill, the poverty rate of seniors has been cut in half.
While my policy instincts are often considered progressive, my political instincts have always been bipartisan. I believe that my job as a member of Congress is to find the best ideas no matter where they reside, whether on the progressive or the conservative side or somewhere in between. I also strongly believe that legislation brought forth in a bipartisan way, with sponsors from both sides, has a better chance of succeeding in the short term and enduring in the long term.
During my second term, in fact, the independent site GovTrack.us ranked me as one of the most bipartisan members of Congress, a designation I was proud of. Under normal circumstances, I'd be happy to tell any audience that fact, but these weren't normal circumstances. Progressives were understandably furious with President Trump, and they certainly didn't seem to be in the mood for working together.
Just before the event began, I turned to a member of my team. "Do you think it would be a mistake to talk about bipartisanship right now?" I asked.
"Yeah," he replied. "Probably best not to bring it up. This group wants you to be a partisan."
Yet, as I stepped to the podium, that didn't feel right. Yes, Donald Trump had been elected president, but that wasn't going to stop me from working with the other side to get things done, so why should I pretend otherwise? Wasn't it better to tell the truth, no matter the consequences?
I started my speech by talking about my bipartisan work on Social Security. Then I went straight to it, saying, "I was rated the third most bipartisan member of the Congress last year, by the way, by an independent group."
I had no idea how the crowd would react to this news, but I didn't expect what happened next: the entire audience erupted into applause. Apparently, this was exactly what this liberal group wanted to hear — and it was a great reminder that telling the truth about where you stand is always the best option.
* * *
My father, Jack Delaney, died in the summer of 2016, but if you had met him you would have understood immediately why I tend to prefer straight talk.
Dad was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of a dockworker and a bighearted mother. He was proud of his Irish heritage, and he grew up scrapping and playing sports, eventually becoming a star high school football player in the town of Hasbrouck Heights. His high school sweetheart was a girl named Elaine, a pretty student at the rival high school who'd been named Miss Wood-Ridge of 1953. Elaine, too, was of Irish heritage, on her mother's side, but her father, Al Rowe, was from England.
My parents married just after graduating high school in 1957. Rather than going to college, they went right to work. Dad joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as an electrician, a profession that provided him with a good living for sixty years. My mother was a bank teller at Wood-Ridge National Bank for a couple of years before giving birth to her first child, my sister, Diane. Four years later, in 1963, I was born, and the four of us lived in a Sears Roebuck house, the kind that people used to buy out of the Sears catalogue and have assembled on their little plots of land.
My father was a no-nonsense kind of guy — he had a strong handshake, liked his sports, enjoyed having a beer with his buddies. Every day, he'd get up before dawn, put on his usual uniform of work boots, jeans, and a T-shirt or flannel shirt, and then head out in his pickup truck to his current job site. Dad worked hard at his trade, and he taught my sister and me that same work ethic. He was also very good at his job: he became the foreman on some of the biggest projects in northern New Jersey, including overseeing much of the electrical work in the old Giants Stadium when it was constructed in the mid-1970s.
One of my favorite things to do as a boy was to go to work with him, riding in his pickup truck with the big toolbox in the back. He'd show me around the sites, teaching me the rudiments of the electrician's trade and giving me small jobs to do. He showed my sister, Diane, and me the value of hard work. In fact, I can't remember a time as a kid when I wasn't working during breaks from school. I spent summers as a mason and excavation laborer, a painter, a landscaper, and most often as an electrician's assistant, working side by side with my father.
Dad was the strongest person I knew, always winning arm-wrestling competitions in local bars and performing feats of strength for his buddies. He wasn't a showboat, but he carried himself with pride and expected his fellow workers to treat him with respect. Usually they did. But one day, when I was about ten years old, I saw what happened when they didn't.
That morning, a Saturday, we hopped in the pickup truck and Dad drove us to a sprawling industrial job site. The project was well under way, and my dad's team had been running wires through the studs and installing hundreds of outlets. He wanted to check on their progress, but to his surprise he found carpenters installing Sheetrock on the walls.
My dad walked up to the foreman responsible for the carpenters. "What the hell is going on?" he asked. "You weren't supposed to do this for another two weeks. You've covered up all my outlets; I can't even find them." The foreman shrugged and said, "Too bad, Jack. The Sheetrock came in early, and I told my guys to put it up. Your problem, not mine."
At first, my dad just looked at him. Then he said, "Well, I guess I'll just have to find the outlets myself." Then I watched as he bent down, picked up a lump hammer, and smashed a hole into one of the walls. Then he smashed another, and another, each time saying, "Nope, no outlet here!" After he'd punched about a dozen holes in the freshly installed Sheetrock, the foreman took a swing at him, but Dad grabbed him by the shirt and knocked him to the ground with one punch. Just then, the project manager overseeing the whole job came running up. My dad turned to him, his eyes sparking with anger. "This is why you need union contractors," my dad said. "We work together."
My father worked hard and played hard, and he used to love going to the bar at the end of a long day on the job. He'd drink a few beers with his friends, an assortment of local electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and masons, and sometimes he stayed late enough that my mother would feel compelled to go get him. She'd bring me and my sister along, sending me into the bar to collect him as she sat outside in the car with the engine idling. I didn't mind; I knew all his buddies. I'd go in and say hello, and they'd all greet me with "Hey, Johnny!" And sometimes, if I was lucky, I'd get to hang out for a few minutes with my dad and his friends while he finished up.
Dad was also industrious. As a young electrician, he used to collect small pieces of discarded copper wire, which he'd take home in his lunch pail. Most of the pieces were two or three inches long, very heavy gauge (about a half inch to an inch thick) and covered with a heavy rubber outer jacket insulation. For months, he would stack them in a growing pile in our basement. When the pile got to be about four feet high, he'd spend hours after work skinning the rubber jackets off the scraps of wire with a pocketknife. He'd stay up most of the night, and by the morning he'd have a pile of copper wire that we could sell by the pound. This was the early 1970s, when copper wire sold for about a dollar a pound, so we'd make several hundred dollars. The work was tedious and long, but I remember how proud I felt when he invited me to join him for this nighttime ritual.
My father's strong work ethic made it possible for him and my mom to save enough money to buy a second house, a two-family unit that later produced rental income. The place was completely dilapidated when they purchased it, and some of the happiest memories I have as a boy were of spending weekends together with my dad, fixing up that house.
While he didn't express it the same way most parents do today, my dad was a warm, caring, and loving father. Whenever Diane, my mom, or I was sick, he would always find a phone during the day so he could call to see how we were doing. After work, he'd bring us a present or a favorite food, and I can remember him cracking open the door to my room on many nights to check on me.
Much of who I am today I owe to my dad. He taught me to work hard, never to back down, to stand up for friends, and to care for and protect family. In his world, this was the code by which you judged yourself. And in everything he did, he was a straight shooter, a man who said what he meant and meant what he said, no matter the consequences.
* * *
One of our government's biggest problems is that it makes decisions based not on facts, but on politics, emotions, and ideology. This leads to huge problems in governance because instead of creating smart policies we're creating partisan ones.
I've been an entrepreneur for three decades, and the experience of creating and building companies taught me a lot about the value of facts and the necessity of telling the truth. When starting a business, you have to be relentlessly honest. Is there a real opportunity? Do you have the resources to pursue it? Is your strategy working? You have to constantly analyze how you're doing, where you're succeeding, and where you're failing, and then adjust accordingly. If you try to fudge the answers to any of these questions, your venture will most likely fail; the more honest you are with yourself, the better your decision making will be.
I did my best to be objective — or, to put it another way, brutally honest — about the strengths and weaknesses of my businesses. Here's one example. In the summer of 2008, I was CEO of CapitalSource, a company with $4 billion in market value that I'd cofounded in 2000 and taken public three years later. Our business was providing loans to small and midsize companies, and over the eight years of the company's existence we'd had an amazing run. CapitalSource filled a real need in the market, and we'd helped finance thousands of companies, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Then, in the late summer of 2008, the financial crisis struck. Confidence in the market began to plummet, and I knew our stock was going to take a massive hit. Some other financial companies tried to downplay or hide the extent of the potential damage in an effort to reassure their shareholders. I decided to go the opposite way.
Working with my team, I created a clear-eyed analysis of how our portfolio of loans was likely to perform based on the coming credit crisis and economic downturn, which we expected to be significant. We put our loans into categories, with detailed disclosures showing the balances, our reserves, and how much money we could expect to lose. We prepared aggressive estimates of just how bad the situation could get, and then we put it all out in the open for people to see. I believed that even though things were tough and about to get even more painful, CapitalSource would survive the crisis, provided we were honest. Though I hoped that this display of transparency would reassure our investors and bondholders that they could trust us, there was no way to know for sure.
We sent out our analysis via the required public disclosures, and while it caused anxiety in the short term, our honesty about the challenges we faced had the effect I'd hoped for. The fact that we'd communicated with our stakeholders with total transparency helped to restore confidence, and, thanks to this and other factors, our company ultimately rode out the financial crisis, one of the few financial services companies that was able to do so. We avoided any defaults, paid back all our debts, continued to grow our business, and didn't take any money from the government, even though we were eligible for it. By comparison, our main competitor, a company called CIT, ultimately had to file for bankruptcy, even after receiving a massive government bailout.
Telling the truth is a smart strategy in business, and in government. If we want to restore trust with the American people, we need to communicate directly and honestly with them.
* * *
Telling the truth is a trait that seems to be in short supply in American politics these days. Each party basically tells lies about the other, insisting that the other side is invariably corrupt, stupid, naive, or just wrong about everything. These messages have the short-term goal of winning elections, but they do lasting damage by eroding people's trust in their government.
The U.S. government is unique in the history of the world, and as such it has long been a source of great pride for Americans. Our Founding Fathers didn't invent democracy, but they did create a better version of it — one that, two hundred fifty years later, endures and remains the envy of the world. Our three equal branches of government, and the checks and balances they provide, have granted us unprecedented stability, security, and economic prosperity, and the Founders' intentional decentralization of power has kept us safe from autocracy. And while our system is not perfect, it does work, despite what we all hear to the contrary these days.
It's important to understand how much the U.S. government's evolution was influenced by two factors: the eight-year Revolutionary War that overthrew the British monarchy in favor of democracy and the never-ending battle between those who want to invest more power in the states and those who want to invest more in the federal government. These two factors led to the creation of a system of government that requires broad support, not merely a simple majority, before anything can get done. In other words, the success of our government requires broad buy-in — and right now, we don't have much of that.
In 1986, President Reagan gave voice to many people's mistrust of government when he said, "I've always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.'" And it's not just conservatives who feel that way. According to Pew research, Americans' trust in the federal government is approaching an all-time low and keeps on dropping. These days, a majority of Americans sees our government as dysfunctional, corrupt, and unresponsive to their needs, when it should be accomplishing precisely the opposite: we should be engaging in the transformational work of bettering lives.
The American people have correctly diagnosed that we have a problem. But the remedy they've chosen, Donald Trump, is completely incapable of fixing it. If anything, the hyperpartisan, "alternative-facts" universe that the Trump presidency has ushered in has made things materially worse. And that has led to a national crisis of confidence. As Americans, we identify closely with our ideals and history. When we lose faith in our government, we also lose faith in ourselves.
So, what can we do to restore that faith? The first step is to tell the American people the truth. Here are just two ways I would do that within the first one hundred days of my presidency.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Right Answer"
Copyright © 2018 John Delaney.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue: The Courage of Our Convictions 1
1: Tell the Truth 7
2: Embrace Compromise 23
3: Open the Door 47
4: Harness the Power of Incentives 68
5: Think Different 89
6: Release America’s Inner Entrepreneur 106
7: See Both Sides 127
8: Get Back to Governing 145
9: Focus on the Future 164
Epilogue: The Right Answer 196