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Election > Politics and Prejudices

After voting, what?

Politics today: Important, ugly and too often ignored

 

Published 8/4/2010

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By the time you are reading this, you'll know who the major party nominees for governor are in our battered state of Michigan.

But the question is — do you care?

Sadly, for far too many of us, the answer seems to be ... not much. That's sort of bizarre, given that unemployment has been abysmally high in Michigan for years. Our elected leaders in Lansing have been largely paralyzed and dysfunctional, unable and unwilling to address the state's major problems. Everybody knows we desperately need something different, that we need things to change.

Yet few of us look to political solutions any more. At Wayne State University, for example, few of the students I know pay much attention to politics. A few days ago I went to see Frank Kelley, the longest-serving attorney general not only in Michigan's history, but America's.

He was saddened and baffled by this. "When you and I were in college, at the college bull sessions late at night, we would discuss women and politics," he told me. "A little bit women, the rest, politics." Nowadays, when he's been on campuses, "politics aren't even on the agenda! The attitude is that's something dirty that you don't want to get into."

Harried parents and people trying to cling on to their jobs or find jobs don't seem to be greatly involved these days, either.

This should, by the way, have been the most spellbinding primary in state history. The state is in crisis and both Republicans and Democrats had what seemed to be cliffhanger contests.

I had to write this column before the returns were in, and for the first time ever had no real feeling for who was going to win either nomination. And while I really disliked some of the candidates, what surprised me most is how uninspired I was by any of them — a feeling most of the voters I talked to seemed to share.

The nature of the process may have something to do with it. Joe Schwarz, a Battle Creek physician, former congressman and state senator, wrote me last weekend from Montana:

"This election is the ugliest political extravaganza that I've witnessed," he noted after a day of clearing brush. "Don't know how you feel about it, but for myself, the obscene amount of money, the out-of-state consultants who slink in and then skulk out by dark of night after ruining the reputations of some opponents, the outrageous negative ads, have pretty much spoiled it for me."

What's worse, he added, was that there's a shortage of good and experienced people who are willing to run — given the nastiness of the process.  Not that nasty politics are new. Richard Nixon was doing things as bad or worse running for the U.S. Senate in 1950. But now they are the norm. Schwarz had thought seriously about running this time as an independent. Lots of people who understand Lansing hoped he would do it. During his four terms in the state Senate, Schwarz became a master of the legislative process. Though he wasn't above pounding the table, things got done.

He is also, in short, a member of the reality-based world. Fiscally conservative, Schwarz nevertheless knows how important education is to our state's future. He also knows how polarized and rigid both parties have become — and how alien their thinking and ways are to the majority of Michigan citizens.

But sadly, he concluded he couldn't raise the millions necessary for a credible challenge — and may also have felt that, at 73, after serving his country and his state for most of a lifetime, he didn't need the aggravation of being slimed once again by lesser men.

Is this really what we want and are willing to settle for?

Much — though certainly not all — of Michigan's plight is due to the national economy. When we hear the Republicans howl this fall about Gov. Jennifer Granholm ruining the state, we might also consider this, especially when confronted with the ravings of the Teabaggers:

A retired woman, herself thrown out of a job partly because of the Michigan economy, told me the other day that the talking heads on TV had made her realize that there is a vicious cycle at work. Republicans, she said, get into office and eventually leave "with the country in a high state of budgetary disaster, owing gazillions of dollars and having set up a horrible situation, whether war, poverty, recession ... the electorate throws out the bastards and the Democrats take over. But they have to start from within a deep, deep hole.

"Disappointed that the Democrats haven't been able to perform financial miracles, the electorate once again votes Republican. And the cycle continues — except that each time the hole gets deeper, the poverty more widespread and the center cannot hold.

"Talk about a dumbed-down nation, ..."

Ah, yes. Seems a fellow named Vladimir Ulyanov wrote something about that, way back when. Well, comrades, perhaps I'll eventually see you on the bread lines or the barricades, depending.


Speaking of which:
Once in a great while, it is not only possible to speak truth to power — someone in power speaks the truth. So for an extra bowl of soup at the mission, who said this last month: "While the middle class disappears and poverty increases, the wealthiest people in our country are not only doing extremely well, they are using their wealth and political power to protect and expand their very privileged status at the expense of everyone else. ... They are hell-bent on destroying the democratic vision of a strong middle-class which has made the United States the envy of the world."

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, that's who. He also pointed out that the 400 richest families in America are now worth $1.27 trillion, and pay an effective tax rate that is 16.6 percent, the lowest on record. Sanders says this in his article, "No to Oligarchy," posted at commondreams.org, as part of his common-sense attempt to enact a graduated income tax on estates of more than $3.5 million.

Normally, anything this sensible would set off bleats of "socialism" from the nation's right-wing bloggers — but in this case, they needn't bother. He is a socialist, the only self-proclaimed one in Congress. If this be socialism, we better make the most of it.


Learn something and have fun:
Stewart McMillin is one of our underappreciated resources. For years, this retired history teacher has been running tours that explain Detroit to anyone interested in how we got here.

If you want to spend a day you'll remember, check out his African-American History and Culture Tour on Aug. 19. Whether you're black, white or some fragment of the rainbow, you'll see places and learn things you didn't know.

He's also host tours of Canadian Underground Railroad sites in September and tours in Ohio and Kentucky in October.  Depending on the election results, you may also want to sign up for his Prohibition tour of Canada on Aug. 28.

To find out more about these excursions and others, check out his website at mcmillintours.com, or, better yet, come to an Underground Railroad party at his home this coming Sunday.

I'd go myself, if I thought there was any chance I could be smuggled to somewhere where people thought I was cool.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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