On Tuesday night people in Wisconsin and Michigan had opportunities to hear the art of obfuscation in the form of two State of the State addresses by Governors Walker and Snyder. Both had some heavy lifting to do related to their disastrous records in office. Though both of them created messes in office that will not soon go away — may never go away in my lifetime — only one apologized, possibly because he can no longer explain away the cookie crumbs on his chin as he again approaches the cookie jar.
So, let’s first consider the guy who apologized. Rick Snyder took over control of Flint, Michigan, failed its residents by contaminating its water and then apparently concealed that fact for a dangerously long time. Despite ample knowledge of the dangers of lead contamination and ingestion by young children, Snyder’s administration seems to have devoted more time to reputation damage control than actual damage control.
While Governor Snyder said in his speech that he is sorry and will fix the water contamination problem, there remain a few elements of his apology that ring hollow. For what is he sorry precisely? The sad state of the river? The decision that suggests a white administration knows better than its Black residents? The arrogance of state emergency take-overs of local government? The lead pipes? The toxic water? His cover up? His reliance on Cher to provide water to residents?
One simply cannot provide an apology without saying for which specific actions the apology is offered. It does not work. Nothing will change. And we know it. Still, to the Governor’s credit, he does have some history of fixing things he pledges to do, and he may do so again with Flint’s water. On the other hand, I am left wondering about who will really fix this problem. When Snyder chided Presidential candidate Clinton on politicizing his wrong doing, he was playing victim to someone who doesn’t hold office and whose job it is to comment on the opposition’s failed approaches to governance. It is likely that the Republican base feels protective of the Governor and wonders why protestors shout, “Black Lives Matter!”
Wisconsinites didn’t even get an apology. Instead we got insults to our intelligence. Scott Walker claimed that soon everyone in Wisconsin who wants to work will have a job. The meaning? Soon everyone who doesn’t have a job will be accused of not wanting to work. He has no plan to make this happen, but he does promise to have listening sessions around the state on how we can make things better for our grandchildren in 20 years.
In these listening sessions, it is very unlikely that Governor Walker will actually listen. He didn’t listen about gutting teacher benefits and salaries. He didn’t listen about gun safety. He didn’t listen about dismantling our state university system. He didn’t listen when tens of thousands of people demanded a recall vote. He didn’t listen to complaints about his opaque administrations in Milwaukee County and in Madison. He didn’t listen when his appointed Secretary of Health Services was involved in unethical and scandalous behavior. He didn’t listen to offers of federal funds to improve health outcomes for tens of thousands of poor and working class people in Wisconsin through Medicaid expansion. He didn’t listen to offers of support to improve our rail system and bring manufacturing growth to the state.
Neither Governor Snyder’s apologies nor Governor Walker’s lack of apologies will do anything to improve the lives of people in their states because they continue to show an absence of accountability for the situations they caused.