Brian Sandoval’s inauguration, and the hope and dread that accompany a new governorship, brought up some points to ponder:
• Richard Nixon used to say one of his political obstacles was Herblock. The brilliant Washington Post editorial cartoonist always drew Nixon with a sinister 5 o’clock shadow. When Nixon won the presidency in 1968, Herblock drew a barbershop with a sign announcing a free shave to the new president. He never again drew Nixon with beard growth, and he proved even more sinister than Herblock thought.
Whatever Sandoval has said and done, it was not as governor, so he faces a new world. The question is whether he should get a free shave. The campaign is over, and if Sandoval is serious about being governor, we will hear less “no new taxes” silliness. He already has revealed a desire to work with the Legislature and that’s being hailed, demonstrating after the disastrous last four years how low our expectations have become for our governor.
• Next month marks the centennial of Ronald Reagan’s birth. Just as Franklin Roosevelt set the standard for a president using radio, Reagan reshaped how the president could manipulate television and his own image. He was indeed, as Barack Obama got in trouble with the left for saying, a game-changer.
Whatever the merits of Reagan’s policies, the man knew how to look presidential. He understood ceremony. Perhaps his most famous utterance as president—“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”—may have been inspiring to eastern Europeans or it may have been meaningless. But it was symbolic.
Gibbons wanted to destroy the state museum system, among other agencies. One of Sandoval’s top aides, Dale Erquiaga, who ran that area under Kenny Guinn, pooh-poohed the notion. Symbolically, perhaps importantly, Sandoval made it a point to visit museums on inauguration eve.
It may have meant little, or it may have been a significant signal. More travelers are seeking “cultural tourism” these days. The Mob Museum and Mob Experience are near. Nevada’s museums and state parks are jewels. Might Sandoval have been subtly hinting that since he doesn’t want to raise taxes, business leaders should tear down their walls to these sites, and hotels might consider packaging them as part of the experience they offer?
• Sandoval’s inaugural address, and how he almost beseeched us to be optimistic, was a reminder that this is the 11th anniversary of a UNLV lecture by political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin, who have somehow managed to stay married. An audience member asked Carville who would be elected president in 2000. Carville said he knew better than to make predictions, but noted that since television began dominating politics in 1952, every presidential election winner except for Nixon, a historically explicable exception, was the more optimistic candidate. So it went in 2000 (George W. Bush over Al Gore), 2004 (Bush over John Kerry) and 2008 (Obama over John McCain). In Nevada, it didn’t hurt Sandoval to look like central casting’s idea of a smiling politician, especially against Rory Reid, who actually thought voters wanted to discuss policies and their own well being.
Which brings up a story about Lyndon Johnson. As Senate majority leader, LBJ noticed how the media always described a colleague, New York’s Herbert Lehman, as sincere. LBJ called in his press secretary, George Reedy, said he wanted to be considered sincere and ordered him to start telling the press how sincere he was. Trying to keep a straight face, Reedy replied that sincerity is a quality that can’t be sold because that would be … insincere. After that, Johnson answered reporters’ questions by starting with, “Well, the sincere answer is … .” It didn’t work and he finally gave up.
Sandoval needs Nevadans to be optimistic. But telling us to feel that way matters much less than doing what needs to be done to make us feel that way. That doesn’t come from promising that at Nevada’s sesquicentennial the state will “be Nevada again,” which is meaningless, or from vowing to cut one-third of the state budget. Sandoval is a new broom sweeping out the dust left by his predecessor, so we should try to be hopeful. But cutting Nevada’s throat doesn’t qualify as a free shave.