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Feb 10, 2021

Our Man Joe: Same-Day Disappointment—Guaranteed!

The first 100 day of a presidency now take fewer than 100 minutes

By Ed Goldman

Just three weeks ago, on the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration as president, the aphids were already gathering on the plants of democracy. (You can see why I’ve cut back on the metaphor-consulting side of my business.)

William A. Gastron, a longtime Wall Street Journal columnist, wrote that how Biden ends up handling the COVID-19 pandemic will “make or break” him. Again, this was on the first day of his presidency—which means, given the realities of newspaper deadlines, Gastron had probably written it a few days earlier, maybe even several days. Cops usually call this process a stakeout; perps call it lying in wait.

Edgy Cartoon

Hurry Up, Joe!

Within a few days, editorials began to pop up all over the country issuing dire warnings of what Biden had better get to, and double-quick! Significantly, these didn’t emanate solely from conservative media outlets, which proves that setting someone up for failure can be a nonpartisan sport. 

It reminded me—in a much lesser but comparable sense—of my very first day on the job as the City of Sacramento’s public information officer, in the early fall of 1976. 

Several issues were on the ballot for November. One was an initiative that would require homeowners to place their garden refuse (leaves, dead plants and grass clippings) in collection bins, rather than pile it at their curbs, as they’d been doing for decades and had come to think of as an inalienable right. Curbside, the debris would then await the arrival of the City’s mysteriously-beloved “Claw,” an enormous mechanical scooper, to remove the mortally wounded flora on a designated weekday. 

When I asked residents back then why they were against mandated “containerization,” as the ballot measure branded it, some of them, especially in the leafier, older areas of town—one of which, East Sacramento, I ended up living in for 40 years—rhapsodized about the aesthetic splendor of seeing multi-colored foliage stacked erratically in front of the area’s homes, though so voluminously as to make driving down the streets a treacherous autumn undertaking. And forget about parking in front of your own home.

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One of the other issues, which had more far-reaching fiscal impact, was called “Retirement Measure E,” which had something to do with funding the City employees’ retirement system. 

The “containerization” mandate, as it was called, lost big. But the retirement issue, as parochial and self-serving as it was, triumphed. The mayor, city council and my boss, the city manager, were happy about that and gave me largely unearned credit for its success, attributing a few ads and guest editorials I drafted to having helped turn the tide. This was very kind of them considering the polls had indicated, from the time I arrived in September to the day before the election not quite two months later, that the measure was headed to victory. As I recall, those poll numbers were just about the same before and after my ads and editorials. At least, I consoled myself, my efforts hadn’t worsened them.

Leading up to all of this, however, from the day I walked into City Hall for the first time, was the constant ribbing I took as people offered me left-handed welcomes to the job. The theme was, “This is your first day? You’re already six months behind!”

That’s what Joe Biden’s getting. He seems to be taking it in good humor. God knows—and really, we all know—how his predecessor would have reacted to the mere hint of disappointment among the vox populi. Especially if someone asked him to spell, pronounce or define vox populi.

It’s unfortunate. But if the President thinks he’s the target of a rush to judgment, consider the plight of J. Pierpont Finch, the plucky hero of the Pulitzer-winning Broadway musical and subsequent movie, ”How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.” The work satirizes the breathtaking rise of a window washer-turned mailroom employee who says nothing of substance in a company whose main products are “widgets”—items no one in management seems to know what those may happen to be. In just two or three days, Finch is named the corporate vice president of advertising. His boss congratulates him on his ascendancy, and in the same breath says that so far Finch “has been a disappointment.”

”So far” being about two minutes on the job. And yet, like Joe Biden and me, Finch was already six months behind. My, the aphids are out early this year.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President and CEO, Golden Pacific Bank

Government and the private sector may be able to curb and end homelessness. But the real help for our neighbors in need has to come from humans: you, me and everyone you know.

I am blessed to have a very rich and fulfilling life—one that affords me the opportunity to see those who are trying to help, from grand-scale projects to find and make more homes available, to meeting each person where they are, eyeball-to-eyeball on the streets.

As the Board Chair of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco’s Affordable Housing and Community Investment Committee, I’m proud that over time this organization has provided billions in advances and credits related to community investment. In 2020, an estimated 4,600 housing units were created, with funding that helped retain approximately 11,600 jobs.

On the other side of the spectrum, I’m the Board Chair of Mercy Pedalers. I am so proud of this group of 70 volunteers—led by Sister Libby, a Catholic nun—who bike around the greater Sacramento area’s streets, delivering coffee, food, warm clothing, and most important, a loving smile and compassionate spirit.

While it’s sad to have so many people in distress, especially during these difficult days of the pandemic, it’s gratifying that people come from all angles and backgrounds to try to address the complicated problem. Their common thread? We’re all humans trying to do the best we can.

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