Monday, August 4, 2008

The governor: "Take responsibility when you're wrong..."

The governor's new ad is out, and it is a pretty good one. It is straight from the current Democratic playbook -- the governor on the back of a horse, bawling calves in the background, etc.

The ad is all about symbolism, which is a big part of what an effective television ad is about. Just ask Barack Obama, who has been schooled by the McCain camp on that front recently with an effective, hilarious, mocking viral ad campaign that conveys the sense that Obama is an empty suit with nothing much behind the high-flown messianic rhetoric and worshipful fan-base.

But one should be careful, when massaging the symbolism, not to say inconvenient things that can bite you with sharp-toothed facts, and the governor did just that, when he said that he had "learned as a rancher" a list of good American, apple-pie things that included "taking responsibility when you're wrong."

The irony is that in at least one high-profile example to be found in the real world, the governor continues to refuse to take responsibility for breaking the law by doing Public Service Announcements (PSA's) -- using public funds to produce and distribute them -- while a declared candidate for public office.

There isn't much debate over whether the governor broke both the spirit and the letter of the law that he himself signed. The Democratic legislator who wrote the bill has confirmed that the Republican interpretation (i.e. the plain as the nose on your face interpretation) is what he intended. In other words, the law was intended to prevent public officials from doing exactly what the governor did with his "Ag Month" PSA's -- in this case, the governor even had the chutzpah to include his "Montana is on the Move" official campaign slogan in the "public service" announcement.

Ongoing coverage is on YouTube for those who want to listen to all the details of the special hearings now ongoing. One thing is clear -- the governor is refusing to accept responsibility for something he and his employees did that was wrong. As we have noted before, it would have been simple for the governor to say -- oops, we goofed and weren't watching the calendar closely enough. The matter would have blown over in days. It is precisely the governor's intransigence in admitting a relatively minor mistake that has turned this into much bigger matter of whether the governor considers himself to be accountable before the law or not.

We again note that the governor has made no more such PSA's -- if he were so certain that the intent of the legislation was not to ban the activity, why isn't he continuing to "serve the people of Montana" by making lots more PSA's?

We would also note that as Sec. State Brad Johnson told us in his Montana Headlines interview, it is perfectly possible for a government department to put out PSA's without using the name, face, or voice of the person in the department who is running for office.

The governor could have had the head of the Dept. of Agriculture or a volunteer announcer do the ads, could have left out the governor's campaign slogan "Montana is on the Move," and everyone would have been happy and unquestionably within the law.

If Sec. State Brad Johnson has no problems understanding and following the law -- and still manages to do the part of his job that requires putting out necessary PSA's -- why is is so difficult for the governor to do so?

The joke goes that one of the most dangerous places to be standing in Montana is between this governor and a television camera. Now, we have to add a radio microphone to the list of danger spots, it would appear.


Anonymous said...

The "Montana is on the Move" slogan has appeared in many official state documents and communications from state agencies. One would have to wonder if there was some illegal coordination taking place between the executive branch and the Schweitzer campaign.

Anonymous said...

"As we have noted before, it would have been simple for the governor to say -- oops, we goofed and weren't watching the calendar closely enough. The matter would have blown over in days."

And I have some oceanfront property in Arizona that I would like to sell you...

Give us a break.

Montana Headlines said...

Anon 1 -- that is a pretty serious accusation, if it is true. If you have evidence of the governor putting his campaign slogan on other official government documents, send them our way.

Until then, that has to go into the unsubstantiated rumor bin.

Anon 2 -- I understand your skepticism about the governor. You are very right that it can very well seem ridiculous to imagine the governor admitting to a minor mistake, but that is something we've only learned through episodes like this.

We preferred to give the governor the benefit of the doubt when this story first broke, though. And it was not unreasonable to hope that he would act in a reasonable fashion.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the ad yet, so I don't know what he says exactly. But it seems odd he would go for the humilty angle of saying "admit when you are wrong." Obviously, that is not something he does.

In fact, can anyone remember a time when the governor has ever admitted making a mistake? When anything goes wrong, he is quick to point the finger of blame at anyone beside himself. If anyone can think of a time that he admitted making a mistake, I'll eat my computer. Is it really a good ad when you tell such a whopper?

Will the press let him get away with that garbage? Oh, I guess we all know the answer to that question.

Montana Headlines said...

Click on the link if you want to see the ad.

Yes, it is an effective ad -- keep in mind that most Montanans (probably quite wisely) only follow politics casually, and the ad was designed for the "casual voter." The political junkies who write and read political blogs know a lot more in the way of hard facts about things in politics, so someone like you is much more knowledgeable about details.

You are right that it is hard to think of the governor admitting when he is wrong. When the Stockgrowers made him back down on the split-state proposal, he was irritated and blamed them for rejecting a "lifeline." He didn't stop to consider that maybe the Stockgrowers had a better approach and that his, designed to please environmentalist concerns, might be wrong.

When he signed the multistate brucellosis agreement and then told the press he hadn't signed it -- and was caught in the lie -- he changed what the definition of "is is." He said that he really hadn't signed something until he had publicized it. One can well imagine that something isn't real to the governor until he's been on TV talking about it, but the truth is that he had signed the agreement and then said he didn't.

But we Republicans tend to notice these acts of stubborn refusal to admit a mistake (a trait that Dems found detestable in Pres. Bush) -- but perhaps we aren't noticing places where the governor has admitted that he messed up. Others will have to enlighten us.