I was reminded of Gentleman Jerry Sander’s “State of the City Speech” while watching the Prez’s address Tuesday night and struck by the similarities between the two. Both were given by politicians who pride themselves on their “Aw shucks, I’m just a good natured normal kinda guy” persona. Except in Jerry’s case it’s the truth—he is a good natured fellow of modest means. The President, meanwhile, is a multimillionaire (thanks to his own industriousness—and a lot of help from his daddy’s friends…) who, out of the public glare, is subject to extreme tantrums of temper, shortness of patience and absence of humor. But in public, at least, they can both go”gosh” for “gosh” with the best of them.
But despite the projected bonhomie of both men, both their speeches were received with what might kindly be characterized as a “tepid” response. (Let’s put it this way: if water were the temperature of their reception said water would be perfect for defrosting a bag of Costco frozen cooked shrimp.) This contrasting with the generally joyous reception Jerry got last January when San Diegans hoped the new top cop at the top would be able to right all the wrongs of this troubled city.
For George W., however, the reception fell right in line with the downward trajectory that followed his high water mark in his post-9/11 State of the Union. If things keep going this way next year the President may be greeted by the sound of chirping crickets in an otherwise icy House chamber. Especially if his unpopularity is being translated into plummeting poll numbers for 2008 GOP hopefuls. Jerry, meanwhile, has this year to make major strides towards putting the City back on the track to fiscal recovery. Otherwise the next State of the City reception may be similarly icy.
Why the lack of enthusiasm for our respective leaders? I can think to two major reasons. First, it doesn’t endear you to your audience to basically accuse them of mismanagement or malfeasance. Jerry did just that when he concluded his speech by saying “We can choose to rebuild a city government tarnished by ineptitude and neglect. Or we can choose to capitulate to special interests as we have done in the past.” Let’s see now, just who were the people responsible for a lot of that ineptitude and neglect? Why, that would be the very City Council members sitting in the front row being verbally slapped by their new, strong mayor. And who were the special interests that the City capitulated to? (Capitulate. What a pleasant euphemism for a term best described by a scene from the movie “Deliverance.”) Why, they would be many of the same muncipal heavy hitters and big league players who made up a good part of the relatively small crowd in Golden Hall that night. Ouch.
And when his Commander in Chiefness starts harping on Congressional earmarks and the sad state of our deficit-bloated budget, who is he slapping? Why, that would be the party that presided over the earmark happy, deficit exploding Congress for the past 12 years – the grand and glorious GOP itself. Nothing like being kicked in the keister by your own party leader.
But I think the dominant reason both Jerry and George got lukewarm receptions is because most thinking people understand that things are worse then either of them would admit. Worse in San Diego in terms of the precarious fiscal position the City continues to be in, with lots of budgetary pain coming our way – or bankruptcy. Worse nationally in terms of the precarious fiscal position the Country continues in, running massive deficits and borrowing massive amounts abroad with little end in sight. And, of course, there is that little fiasco called Iraq.
San Diego and Washington both suffer from the same malaise – leaders who refuse to publicly acknowledge the serious of the problems confronting their people. It is difficult for the public keep faith in their elected leaders when their elected leaders don’t level with them realistically about the problems we collectively face. And, bottom line, neither Jerry or George were completely on the level in their “State of” speeches.