Here’s a delightful think-piece from a guy who believes I’d be a terrible governor. Since I shared a link last week from a guy who thinks I’m right for the job, it seems only fair to share some thoughts from the other side. Here then, with no further ado, are the musings of Keith Baldwin, a teacher and a writer who lives in Queens.
Mike Rowe Would Be a Terrible Governor
He’s a great TV host, but he’s the furthest thing from his phony working man persona.
KB: I grew up watching Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel and listening to his voice recounting the trials and travails aboard Alaskan crab boats on Deadliest Catch. Even when he was describing a scene of terror or a sour turn of luck that was sure to spell financial ruin for a captain and his crew, I couldn’t help but be comforted by the deep tones of reassurance in that amazing voice. It’s undoubtedly his best quality. Used in combination with his everyman good looks, his wry smile, and his kind blue eyes, his success as a performer is no surprise.
Thanks for watching my shows. It’s funny, I still think of myself as the 42-year old man who started Dirty Jobs back in 2003. So I’m constantly surprised when grownups tell me they “grew up” watching me. Tick-tock, right? On the other hand, I tried hard with Dirty Jobs to deliver an apolitical show that would appeal to parents and their children. I’m pleased to hear that you were among the kids who enjoyed it.
KB: His talents would no doubt be as valuable an asset in politics as they are in entertainment. At least, Rich Karlgaard certainly seems to think so.
MR: Again, thanks for the kind words, but I’ll take no credit (or blame) for the way I sound, or the way I look. The qualities you describe are indeed useful in a variety of fields, including politics. But don’t worry – as I made clear on this page and in multiple interviews, I have no intention of running for anything but a new season of Returning the Favor, which is another show you might enjoy, now that you’re all grown up! You can catch a new episode right here on Facebook, this Monday. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuUiwYau1FQ
KB: Karlgaard has been the publisher of Forbes Magazine—you know the one all about money and rich people—since 1998, and used that position on Tuesday to publish an open letter to Mike Rowe under the headline “Mike Rowe for California Governor 2022.” The letter expresses some lovely sentiments, celebrating Rowe’s down-to-earth, common sense appeal, and arguing that these virtues would serve him well in the executive role at the head of California’s government. There’s really only one problem—Mike Rowe would be a terrible governor.
MR: Forbes Magazine, from what I’ve read of it, anyway, deals with a good deal more than “money and rich people.” But even if that was all they dealt with, why point it out? Your response to the Forbes article is published on a website called “Pop Dust.” Do you really want people to assume your views and opinions are in lockstep with the sensibilities of that particular platform? Wouldn’t you prefer people respond to your ideas, as opposed to the venue in which they appear?
Also, the article in Forbes spends very little time extolling my personal virtues, as compared with the many real challenges facing Californians today – serious challenges the writer believes have been brought about by bad policy decisions. Obviously, reasonable people can disagree as to what constitutes “good policy,” but it’s inaccurate to say that Forbes has suggested I run for Governor simply because I possess a “down-to-earth, common sense appeal.” They want me to run because they believe I could be effective at improving things. I’m not saying they’re correct – I’m just saying that my “electability” is not the point. Nor is my “deep, soothing voice, my rugged good looks, or my kind blue eyes.”
KB: The main issue is that he has no idea what he’s talking about. Rowe idolizes work and the tough, no-nonsense attitude that it takes to get the job done in some of the dirtiest, smelliest, and most life-threatening situations. But Mike Rowe has been hosting and narrating TV shows since the 90s—and has been paid well for it since at least 2003. His brief forays into the lives of workers and their struggles make for entertaining viewing, but they don’t really give Rowe any special authority to speak on what’s best for the American worker. And his efforts to fetishize the virtue of tough rugged work ends up valuing the job above the humanity of the person doing it.
MR: You might be right – I’ve been mistaken about a number of things in my life, and lived long enough to change my mind about a few core beliefs I once considered inviolate. Perhaps one day, you’ll be able to say the same. For now, enjoy your certainty, but try to leave room for the possibility that you might be mistaken. If nothing else, a little humility will make you a lot more persuasive.
As for the qualities I admire, you’re correct again – a strong work ethic is something my foundation extols, but not only in “dirty, smelly, and life-threatening vocations.” I admire work ethic wherever it appears in the skilled trades, including a great many areas that involve no more dirt than operating an iPad, and no more danger than driving a truck on the interstate. And yes, I’ve tried to encourage that work ethic through my foundation. So far, we’ve awarded millions of dollars in scholarships to young people who wish to learn a skill that’s in demand. In fact, we’re accepting applications later this month, (if the writing thing doesn’t pan out for you.) mikeroweworks.org
KB: This is best exemplified by his “Safety Third” slogan, which he uses to rail against workplace safety regulations and the “safety first” mentality which he claims makes workers “complacent”—it must be just a coincidence that they also cost employers time and money. It must be just a coincidence that Rowe has received backing from anti-regulatory obsessives like the Koch Brothers. Rowe has said of safety, “Is it important? Of course. But is it more important than getting the job done? No. Not even close. Making money is more important than safety – always.”
MR: The Safety Third Campaign has been recognized and embraced by safety specialists around the world. Your description of it is fundamentally inaccurate. The campaign – while deliberately controversial in its name – is designed to foster debate, and ultimately, remind people of one simple, incontrovertible fact: Just because you’re in compliance, doesn’t mean you’re out of danger. http://bit.ly/34I5DIq For instance, a 55 mph speed limit is not safe, if the roads are icy. A “walk” sign at a busy intersection, does not mean it’s safe to walk, without looking both ways.
Too often, mandatory safety briefings become rote. Participants stop paying attention when forced to sit through compulsory protocols, and complacency eventually sets in. This is not my theory – it’s a simple fact disputed by no one in the industry. If you’re really interested in the role of complacency in workplace injuries, homeostatic risk, risk equilibrium, and the many other proven dynamics that thwart the “Safety First” mentality, there’s no shortage of material out there. But cherry-picking a few quotes from me and using them out of context, seems inconsistent with the journalistic standards of Pop Dust. And the fact that Charles Koch supports my scholarship program, has nothing to do with my views on occupational safety.
KB: A normal person—someone with a real, everyday connection to the kind of work that injures people, and the kind of people who get hurt at work—could not write those words without a shudder of horror at the truth they reveal. Rowe seems unconcerned.
MR: How then, would you like me to express my concern? Shall I adopt the paternalistic tone that so many corporations currently rely upon? Shall I repeat the insidious copy written up by insurance companies and lawyers for companies more concerned with not being sued than with telling their workers the actual truth? Do you seriously believe that big corporations value safety above everything else?
Think of how often the airlines say, “Your safety, is our top priority.” If true, why would the airline agree to strap us into an aluminum tube and attempt to defy the laws of gravity at 37,000 feet? The answer, is because we pay them to do so, and baked into that transaction, is the assumption of risk. Workers, like passengers, are better served by understanding that risk is real, and so too, is the role of personal responsibility. No amount of corporate posturing will change the fact that safety is not the reason they’re in business.
The real point of saying “Safety Third,” is to illustrate the absurdity of ranking safety at all. “Safety Always,” is the ultimate goal. “Safety First,” though well-intended, is a happy fiction.
KB: In an interview with Fox and Friends on Friday morning, Rowe responded to the suggestion of a gubernatorial run by demurring, but also offering a range of political opinions. He criticized a push for a higher minimum wage, referring vaguely to “the unintended consequence thing”—though he probably didn’t mean the substantial drop in the suicide rate. He also attacked the idea that California could be held up as a model for national politics, attacking the state’s tax structure and loss of various industries in a way that sounded a bit like a man preparing to run for governor.
MR: I went on Fox to promote a new Season of Returning the Favor, (this Monday on Facebook!) and discuss the state of my foundation, which I’m pleased to say is robust. It’s true that I responded to other questions, just as I do on CNN and MSNBC. This is what a good guest does, Keith. He doesn’t merely show up and hawk his latest money-making venture. (By the way, have you read my new book? It’s called The Way I Heard It. Nine weeks on the bestseller list! Autographed copies are available at mikerowe.com.)
And yes, I did criticize a few policies that I believe will eventually destroy California – specifically, the state budget’s lopsided reliance on capital gain taxes. I worry that when real estate prices come back down to earth, along with the stock market – which they surely will – that revenue will vanish, and California will be well and truly screwed. But come on, man. Having an opinion on public policy doesn’t mean I’m a “man preparing to run for governor.” It means I’m a guy with an opinion, and a place to share it. Like you.
As for the minimum wage, it’s a complicated issue, and hard to dive into during a five-minute chat. A more detailed account of my position, is here, if you’re really interested. https://mikerowe.com/2015/02/ofw-minimum-wage/
KB: Here’s my own open letter to Mike Rowe:
If you are truly dissatisfied with the way California is being run, take the advice that you give to so many working class people—move to North Dakota, where the unemployment rate is 2.5% and there are abundant technical jobs in the energy industry.
MR: With respect Keith, I’ll live where I want, and move there when it suits me. I encourage you to do the same, regardless of what anyone tells you in an open letter. As for career advice, I rarely give it, because unlike a politician, I don’t need to offer cookie-cutter solutions to large numbers of people. Yes – my foundation has assisted a number of individuals who wound up working in North Dakota, but I’ve never advised or discouraged anyone to move there specifically. I’ve only said there’s opportunity there for those willing to learn a skill in demand. The same is true of many other places, as many of our scholarship recipients can attest.
KB: Your official brand is relatability, but it’s not who you really are. You’ve spent so much of your life making millions of dollars in the entertainment industry, yet you encourage people not to follow their passions—to do honest, dirty, steady work instead.
MR: I appreciate the fact you have an opinion, Keith, but if you really think my “official brand” is relatability, then I’m afraid you’re clinging to an impression you formed of me as a child, back when you were watching Dirty Jobs. Fact is, I have never once put myself out there as a man who actually does dirty jobs for a living. Never. On that program, I assumed the role of an apprentice, and tried to learn from the people I encountered. That’s all.
As a boy, it might have seemed like something else to you. After all, I was dressed up like a worker, and always appeared in working environments. But you’re not a child anymore. You’re a grown man, and with respect, you should be able to differentiate between what a person looks like on TV, and who a person is. Watch the show again – or any show I’ve done since – you’ll see a guy who makes no secret of his shortcomings, and no claim to be anything other than who he is.
As for my own path, I had zero interest in the entertainment business growing up. My passion was the building trades, which I eventually learned I was ill-equipped to pursue. Had I stuck with my passion, I’d have never found the career I have today, or the success you find so objectionable. For that reason, I often emphasize the upside of pursuing opportunity, and not necessarily following your dreams.
KB: Until you’ve given up your fortune, taken one of your “mikeroweWORKS” foundation grants to get technical training, and gone out into the real world to live like an average American and feel what it’s like to struggle, stop pretending that you know what’s best for working people, stop taking money from wealthy people trying to protect their fortunes with anti-worker talking points, and definitely don’t run for governor.
MR: Again, I’d be curious to know where or when I’ve ever pretended to know what’s best for working people. What I believe, is that many people who grew up watching my show – people like you – have been told by our elected leaders that “opportunity is dead,” and that the system is rigged. Many seeking office today are running on that same, underlying belief. My purpose, (beyond hawking books and TV shows,) is to show people how the mastery of a skill that’s in demand can lead to a better life. And it’s working! Today, I can provide you with hundreds of examples of how my foundation helped people who were willing to help themselves. I’m actually very proud of that, and see no reason to stop helping as I can, simply because I’ve done well in my chosen field.
Finally, if I may be so bold, allow me a few sentences to offer an alternative explanation, as to why you wrote this. Sometimes in life, people you don’t like will do things you do. Likewise, people you admire, will do things you don’t. I think this has happened to you. You grew up watching me on television and liking what you saw. Then, you were disappointed to learn that we didn’t see the world in exactly the same way.
I think that’s why you’re angry, Keith. I think that’s why you’ve called me a “phony.” Not because I am, or because you found any evidence to prove it. But because I’m not the person you assumed I was. I think that blaming me for being a fake, is less painful than taking a long look in the mirror, and wondering if perhaps you’re not as perceptive as you think. I also think you’re suspicious of successful people, and therefore unable to separate their ideas from their tax brackets. That’s going to prove problematic in the primary, when you’ll need to decide which multimillionaire will get your vote.
I could be wrong. I’m no more a shrink than I am an economist. But I know now what’s important to me, and I’ve seen firsthand how the mastery of a useful skill can make a difference in people’s lives. That’s my focus in 2020, and if I were you, I’d wish me luck, regardless of my personal economy.
I’ll certainly do the same for you.