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Kathy Hoekstra: On the Flint Water Crisis, Snyder Should Take a Page from Bush After 9/11
Even though it’s clear that breakdowns at all levels of government led to the Flint water situation, Gov. Rick Snyder is undeniably the sole face of the problem.
He may not like it. He may not deserve it. He certainly never asked for it. But he will not escape it. So Snyder needs to stop trying and do something he should have been doing all along –– embrace it. I think the governor really does want to help the people of Flint, but he has to show it.
Being the face of a crisis situation is often unpleasant. But in the long run, a lot of good can be done for a lot of people.
It may simply be foreign for someone with a business pedigree to realize the importance of being the face of a company, much less run point on crisis management. Amid calls for his arrest, resignation and, in the case of the singer Cher, execution, Snyder’s first stab at controlling the situation was to release waves of emails by his office. That was a decent move, but given what we’re seeing in those emails, it is painfully obvious the people under Snyder’s purview to help him with the situation were either incompetent, indifferent or muzzled.
Then there’s the restaurant incident. In late January, a woman shouted at Snyder across a restaurant where he was dining with a companion. According to reports, Snyder and his companion walked out without a word.
The very next day, Snyder signed a $28 million aid package for Flint. Again, a nice move. Except he did it in Grand Rapids rather than Flint, surrounded by smiling people who don’t appear hurt by lead-laden water.
Perhaps this stuff works in a corporate boardroom. It definitely does not work in the court of public opinion where animosity already heavily fueled by the likes of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, filmmaker Michael Moore and the Democratic presidential candidates, has made the Flint water crisis a national hashtag.
All of this is not to say Snyder is failing to right some very clear wrongs. He’s just looking like the uncaring businessman his enemies want everyone to believe he is.
Snyder could remedy this by taking a page or two from history.
Three days after September 11, 2001, attacks on our nation, President George W. Bush went to Ground Zero in New York. He erased his initial PR disaster (remember the heat he took for not leaping to his feet and deserting a room of schoolchildren to whom he had been reading?) Standing atop a pile of rubble with a bullhorn, and accompanied by a firefighter, Bush told onlookers, "I can hear you!" and "The rest of the world hears you! And the people –– and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
At that moment, Bush became the face of the war on terror. And he never failed to acknowledge this, even as the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq became increasingly unpopular.