It’s nothing new. Gov. David Ige once against gets very low approval ratings for just about everything he’s touched as the state’s chief policy progenitor.
Got a good memory? Think back to June of 2017. A poll showed his approval rating at a measly 35 percent, an all-time low. Not only did the poll reveal that more citizens had a negative view of Ige than a positive one, but 57 percent of the respondents would have liked to see someone else running Hawaii.
Now, of course, it’s all about Covid-19 and the state’s response. Closing businesses and schools. Being slow with the federal unemployment plus-up funds. The turmoil in the Health Department. But the reality is that handling a pandemic of this complexity has been a learning experience for everyone from families right up to the experts at the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Ige and his people were handling this on the fly. So why are so many people dumping on him?
I submit it’s what I’ve titled today’s column, taken from the classic 1967 movie with Paul Newman, in which the Captain (the warden) of a chain-gang southern prison explains why Luke has to be specially punished for disobedience. “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
What David Ige suffers from is a failure to communicate on a level that calms people’s fears and coaxes them to join him in his effort to do the very best he can under horrible circumstances.
Think what you will about the train, or windmills, or parks, or transit rental policies of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, that fellow knows how to communicate! He speaks plainly, confidently, deferentially and with facial engagement. Ige, on the other hand, suffers from a public speaking handicap. He apparently wasn’t well coached in speech as a youngster. His tonality is weak and wispy. He always seems to be reading from a script rather than speaking from the heart. He sounds more apologetic than persuasive. He makes himself an easy push-back target.
My wife and I sometimes talk about all the speech coaching she got as a Punahou student. Young people fear talking to their classmates, fear laughter and derision. But they can be taught how to overcome that and win over people — even fellow students — with a confident speaking style.
Ige needs a coach more than he needs his current communications specialists. But it’s too late. His term is almost up. At best, he might be able to deliver a memorable farewell address.
There’s a lesson here for up and coming politicians. It’s a new world, and maybe not the best one, but you have to operate in the milieu that’s available. And right now, talented communication is the coin of the realm.
Maybe that’s too bad, too shallow. But it is what it is.
You’ve either got a talent for communication, or a failure to communicate.