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Snyder to give speech of his career

Jack Lessenberry

Every year the governor of Michigan gives an annual State of the State address, modeled after the State of the Union given by the President of the United States.

Usually these are much ballyhooed, televised, and instantly forgotten. Do you remember what either President Obama or Governor Snyder said last year?

I don’t either, and I wrote about them. The only thing I do remember is that the governor gave his the same night as the president, which some felt was bad manners on Snyder’s part. When I Googled last year’s state speech, what popped up was this reaction to it:

“We are compelled first and foremost to adhere to Biblical principles … it is our responsibility to be good stewards of the dollars that have been entrusted to our care.”

That was a joint statement from Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.

Well, moving right along… once in a while, a politician with his back to the wall has to come up with a killer speech to save his career. The most famous example is probably the

“Checkers speech.”

Back when Richard Nixon was running for vice-president, it was discovered that some businessmen had set up a secret slush fund for him.

Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted to kick him off the ticket. But Nixon saved himself with a half-hour speech in which he denied profiting from the fund, gave an accounting of his then-modest assets and liabilities, and revealed that a man in Texas had sent his daughters a cocker spaniel puppy, which Tricia had named Checkers.

“And regardless of what they say about it, we’re going to keep it,”

he said, as his wife sat there with a frozen smile. That saved his reputation, at least for a while.

Tonight, Rick Snyder has to do something like that. The only thing people want to hear about is Flint. Tonight, they don’t care what he thinks about the Detroit schools or the roads. He has to explain why he and his administration poisoned an entire city, were so slow to react, and what they are going to do to make it right.

Yesterday, to his credit, the governor gave an interview to the National Journal in which he finally conceded, in muddy convoluted Snyderspeak, that he had really screwed up.

He agreed this was the Hurricane Katrina of his administration, and said he wouldn’t resign because

“I want to solve this problem. I don’t want to walk away from it.”

But Snyder has to do something else. He has to apologize, and seem sincere. Twenty-two years ago I was doing some work for the Boston Globe. Senator Ted Kennedy had been in trouble for drinking and womanizing, and was in a tough reelection race against a young Mitt Romney. Was it possible he could lose? My editor told me,

“They say they are going to vote against him, but what they really want is for him to go on TV and give them an emotional apology, and then they’ll forgive him. They want to forgive him.”

Kennedy did exactly that, and won by a landslide.

For Snyder, there are no more elections. But he needs to start winning people back tonight, or he is going to have a very hard last three years.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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