One reliable measure of a leader is how well he or she handles political stumbles. Does she graciously admit errors and use it as a learning experience? Or does he blame others and blunder along to make the same mistakes?
President Trump is definitely in the latter camp, evidently believing that being “very stable genius” means never having to say you’re sorry.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is still too new a governor to draw conclusions about leadership style. But his response to the news coverage of his first State of the State speech indicates he may be heading down a bad road.
Here’s what happened: Near the top of the speech on Tuesday, not long after he said the state had some hard decisions coming due, Newsom said this of high-speed rail:
“But let’s be real. The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were. However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.”
Journalists up and down the Golden State, myself included, heard what was obviously an important bit of news about Newsom’s plans to scale back a major infrastructure project that has been plagued by cost overruns, delays and mismanagement. The longer high-speed line was toast, and Newsom would focus on the part of the project already under way in the Central Valley.
What made it all the more newsworthy is that Newsom was famously squishy on his views about the project during the campaign. Here was something solid, at last.
Just hours after the speech, however, the governor’s staff was trying to rein the story back in, saying that the governor didn’t mean to make it sound like he was abandoning the original plans for high-speed rail and that he really is committed to regional rail projects.
Well, OK then, it’s not time to declare the bullet train from San Diego to Sacramento dead (at least not yet, officially). But that’s hardly a “tough call” as previously advertised. And surely the public would have cut Newsom slack for giving confusing signals about his direction. It’s a brand-new administration still learning the ropes.
In any case, that was the moment the governor should have let the whole matter go and chalk it up to just one of those bumps that are part of any new important job.
Instead, he pulled a Trump.
“I just think people in the media should pause before they run headlines and actually consider the facts and maybe even ask the person that’s stating things before they run with things,” Newsom told Times reporters. “That’s the deep lesson I learned in this.”
Governor, with all due respect, that’s the wrong lesson to take from this experience. If more than one person misunderstands what you are trying to communicate, it’s probably not their fault. Trump hasn’t learned that yet, and probably never will. But you still have time.