Archive for October, 2015

Snyder Relentless Positivity (and Wrongness)

Snyder Relentless Positivity (and Wrongness)

Originally published in the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, Saginaw News
November 1, 2015

It’s easy to write off Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent shenanigans that I’ve documented here as simply a politician being a politician, and that’s not right. First, the whole business of relentlessly staying on message with contrived positivity until reality forces you to admit that “mistakes were made” is not unique to politics ā€” think CEOs, military brass, head coaches of major sport teams. But second, and more importantly, blaming it all on politics is dangerous. That just feeds the pervasive hopelessness of “all politicians are bad, government never works,” and that can lead to really, really bad choices like, say, Donald Trump.

No, the base issue is poor leadership. Consider Lincoln and Churchill, both consummate politicians who had to rally their constituents under difficult circumstances ā€” sometimes not being entirely truthful, sometimes failing miserably. But after failures, a big reason why they were able to maintain and rebuild support was because they didn’t try to sell false optimism. They didn’t cling to mistakes with a big ol’ smile.

I understand that the big ol’ smile is part of Gov. Snyder’s shtick. And when he was a first-term governor I found it sometimes cloying but also practical. In leading a state out of a 12-year recession, he needed to swing the pendulum back over to the optimism side. But as a second-term governor, not so much. When, for example, decisions you made have resulted in poisoned water, you really need to assess and identify what is important about that. (Hint: HOLY CRAP! YOU POISONED THE WATER!) Then you need to own the mistake, move forward with seriousness and determination, and lose the big ol’ smile.

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Tales from the Future Flint, Michigan!

Tales from the Future Flint, Michigan!

Originally published in the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, Saginaw News
October 4, 2015

Also posted online at MLive.com, October 3, 2015

When my family moved to Michigan in 1973, it felt quite literally like we were moving to the future. Gaffney, South Carolina, wasn’t like a total backwoods, but Flint ā€” Flint was shiny and prosperous! There were the huge factories and a downtown with one-way streets and a cultural center with a freakin’ planetarium! Not that I had the slightest idea what a planetarium was, but it sure looked space-age. The clincher for me, though, was Safetyville. I had seen a story about Safetyville in a school magazine and marveled at the miniature town with electric cars built to teach elementary kids the basics of driving. Actually getting to go there was a dream come true. (Some still have theĀ licenses they were issued upon successful completion, which even today fills me with envy.)

Little did I know that we had arrived at Flint’s peak. At the time, it would have been difficult to imagine the eventual and deep decline. But if somebody from the future had come back to describe it, I think it would have been at least somewhat believable: the intense pressures of globalization, the gross mismanagement by GM and the UAW, the parade of inept and/or corrupt city leaders. Yeah, that might have all seemed possible, I suppose.

However, if you had told me even a few years ago that the water would be poisoned, I would have said, “Hold on. We’re still talking about Michigan here, not some heartless futuristic dystopia. We may not guarantee our citizens safe roads or affordable education, but we’re all about clean, fresh water.”

And yet, here we are. So I’d like to propose a new Safetyville, one in which students are taught how to properly test a water treatment system to ensure high levels of lead cannot leach into the drinking water. And how, if you can’t guarantee that, then you don’t take the chance. Nobody would be able to hold a public office till they earned that Safetyville license.

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