CLEVELAND, Ohio – “It is what it is.”
Just mentioning the phrase out of context, with no name, will still bring a smile of appreciation or a roll of eyes to many larger Clevelanders. Because you know who you’re talking about, Cleveland’s senior mayor, Frank G. Jackson.
You see, Jackson uttered these words so many times over the years in so many circumstances that the phrase has become a subject of good-humored jokes among its admirers and a target of ridicule among its critics. Perhaps for these reasons Jackson had successfully weaned himself off the use of the term.
Until this week, that is.
On Thursday, after a one-hour briefing on his budget proposal for 2021, Jackson added “It is what it is” in his closing comments to the editors at cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer.
And then he let us know with a sly smile that the joke was on us because we didn’t understand it.
It turns out that “it is what it is” is not a meaningless throwaway line. Rather, it is a slightly cryptic summary of a pensive government philosophy by a man we believed we knew so well after his 30 years in public office.
Jackson said some people mistakenly believe that he is using the phrase as words of abandonment to seemingly unsolvable problems. “People always say when the mayor says,” It is what it is, “he means that there is nothing he can do about it.”
Not so. He explained that instead he is using the term as a brief explanation, that he is being guided by reality, that he is taking a pragmatic approach to problem solving and decision making. “What it means is that I have to accept reality, no matter how painful it is.”
The alternative, he said, would be to rule on “wishful thinking” and make decisions based on an illusory vision of the world around him.
“If I lived in an illusion, as most elected officials sometimes do, and even business people …” he said, “then I would make decisions under an illusion thinking I was influencing a reality that would become reality leaves.” even worse.”
He stayed tuned to reality and said: “I have the opportunity to deal with this reality in such a way that I can change it … into something better for this city and for the people in this city.”
This reality-based approach costs him points with people looking for utopian solutions, he said.
“Now I won’t get an amen,” he said, still smiling.
In other words, “It is what it is.”
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