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 — 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 — 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.