Here’s something I’d like to hear a politician in office say, just once. “My fellow citizens, I screwed up. I made the wrong choice, partly because I was too stubborn to listen to advice.”
“This resulted in bad policy and cost taxpayers money. The fault is mine alone, and I am going to try hard to fix it, and hope I can regain your confidence and your trust.”
Or words to that effect, anyway. I’m not talking about dreary admissions of sexual escapades. I’m not talking about the ritual claims that “mistakes were made,” or the intoning of the formulaic slogan, “I take full responsibility,” which is usually followed by some weasel words indicating the politician is trying to pass the buck to his or her subordinates.
I’m talking about an honest admission of failure, and I have a sneaking hunch that a really skilled communicator could pull this off in a way that would cause them to gain popularity, not lose it. But I am more convinced that we are unlikely to hear such a confession any time soon.
What made me think of this was, of course, yesterday’s announcement that the state is finally canceling its prison food service contract with Aramark, something that would have happened long ago if it hadn’t been for the governor’s stubbornness. The company’s entire history in Michigan has been one long nightmare of maggots in food areas, Aramark workers behaving badly, having sex with inmates, smuggling contraband into the prisons, you name it.
Nearly two hundred Aramark workers have been fired in the last year and a half for transgressions, including allegedly trying to hire one inmate to attack another. This is a company which has a long track record of terrible prison service in other states. Nevertheless, despite intense criticism from even some Republicans, the governor refused to admit he was wrong.
Even now, all they will say was that the decision to part ways was “by mutual agreement,” and an Aramark spokesman whined that they’d had to, quote, “operate in a politically charged environment that included repeated false claims.”
But if you think the governor finally got fed up with horrible service provided by entirely untrustworthy people, think again. What seems to have happened here is that Aramark wanted changes that would allow them to charge the state more money. I’m not surprised they thought they could get away with it. Early on in their Michigan contract, they were fined $98,000, but the state waived the fine.
When the news came that Aramark was being fired, some hoped this meant the state was going back to using government employees, who got the job done well for decades. But a major tenet of Republican ideology these days is to privatize whenever possible. The state will now contract for prison food with a Florida company called Trinity Services Group.
Of this, the governor said, “Michigan will continue to realize significant cost savings from this new contract.” Which is interesting, given that Trinity will be paid $13 million more than Aramark was paid.
Yesterday, listener Gerry Hoffmann of Kalamazoo wrote, “Didn’t they say doing the same thing and expecting a different result is a definition of insanity?”
To which I can only reply … no comment.
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.