The Psychology of Governor Strickland

The media – blogs (here, here and here for example) and mainstream (i.e., here and here) – have written often this week about Gov. Ted Strickland’s support to ban cash payouts. Even the Plain Dealer published this editorial that seems to commend the governor while also contradicting its position last fall in support of Issue 3 (Ohio Learn and Earn – legalizing casinos and slots).

But the governor’s pronouncement shouldn’t have surprised anyone. And certainly not the PD’s editorial board, given that its OPEN staff wrote this over a year ago.

I don’t know Ted Strickland. I’ve only met him a handful of times, although two of those times were fairly up close and personal, via his Meet the Bloggers debate with Bryan Flannery and an off-the-record conversation I had with him following that debate – a conversation that included the topic of gambling.

But, from the MTB debate transcript, I give you the current Ohio governor’s very first stated position, during his campaign, on the record, about gambling in Ohio [the context of my one word question, “Casinos,” is that we were doing a free association/lightening round kind of thing to elicit answers]:

Jill Miller Zimon: Ok. Casinos.

Ted Strickland: Do you want me to go first, Bryan?

Bryan Flannery: I can go, if you want.

Tim Russo: Nobody wants to touch that one!

Ted Strickland: It is a question that I get frequently. I don’t believe that casino gambling represents the future economic… Ohio’s economic future. I approach this matter, not from a moralistic point of view. You know some people see gambling as sinful or not sinful. I am fairly libertarian in the way adults can choose to spend their recreational dollars, but I am also aware of the detrimental effects that casino gambling brings to a community or to a state. So I am not a candidate for Governor who is enthusiastic about casino gambling.

Tim Russo: Would you support legalized casino gambling in this state in any way?

Ted Strickland: I would not be an advocate for it. If it appeared on the ballot and the people voted for it, I wouldn’t have the capacity to veto that. So I believe that’s the only way that casino gambling could become a reality in Ohio, if I were Governor, for the people to say we want it through an initiative.

Gov. Strickland’s current moves are completely and totally consistent with that stance. And anyone who wants to spin the current moves, will do so. But those of us who were there, who care about and respect the record of what was said at the debate and have followed what Gov. Strickland has done, and not done, on this issue, know:

Gov. Strickland made a politically savvy and internally consistent statement about his feelings on the issue of gambling. That statement represents the major league cognitive dissonance that arises from being the leader of a state whose people may want something different than what the leader wants. And the leader can take this way out, for those who choose to see it that way – him included – if he wants.

But he’s never not defined that way out before.

This is the psychology of Ted Strickland’s campaign, of his win and of his governorship. And in today’s climate, with the way most people feel torn about issues – social, economic, personal, legal, environmental – this psychology plays to each of us. Forget how the MSM repeats over and over that people are more polarized than ever. That’s wrong. People who do PR and marketing and construct messages – whether political or otherwise – want to force us to label, they want us to think we’re looking at a polarized population. And, I’ll admit, quickly clinging to a label that seems to make sense is quick and easy.

But it’s not enough. Labels rarely are. We are in the age of nuance, no matter how deep you have to look to find it (that just means people have been intimidated into burying it, ask any moderate anything – as in, Republican or Muslim or Jew for that matter – about that) and this governor knows that. (It’s also why Ken Blackwell lost miserably.) And it’s why his approval ratings are so high.

Wisely, Ted Strickland and those around him have aligned his beliefs and abilities with voters’ sentiments. And they’ve done a damn good job. Spinners can spin all they want, but believe me now and hear me later: it doesn’t make a bit of difference to many voters in Ohio because for every issue about which they feel conflicted, someone – either Strickland or someone on his staff – has read that conflict and is putting it into the equation that results in how Strickland responds.

So far – that formula has responded with the flexibility necessary to keep Ohioans happy. What it really needs to do, at least within the next 9-18 months, is show tangible results in our economy and education system if it wants to 1) help elect a Democratic president and 2) stick around beyond one term.

X-posted at Progress Ohio.

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