Jan 31, 2008

January 14, 2008: Yesterday's Papers, Your Father's Party, Without Benefit of Clergy

“Who wants yesterday’s papers
Who wants yesterday’s girl
Who wants yesterday’s papers
Nobody in the world”----The Rolling Stones

The voices of yesterday echo and collide with each other in the dark corridors of the Rust Belt. John McCain is hoping to recapture the magic of the straight-talking, hip shooting days when as a gunslinger from the west he briefly captured the imagination of America. But it has been 8 long years since he was caught in that nasty crossfire at the South Carolina Corral. He’s older now and, like Marshall Dillon, walks with a noticeable limp but he’s lost none of his ability to return fire. The problem with John is that he has always had a marked propensity to shoot first and think later; and to shoot at anything that moves which, on occasion, is his own foot. So, when asked by a reporter about the manufacturing jobs that have fled Michigan, Marshall McCain quipped “ I got news for the people of Michigan…They (the jobs) ain’t comin’ back.”

This shot struck the soul of the Great Lakes State. I was born and raised in Michigan. I lived my first 50 years in the water wonderland. I know her back roads, walked her shorelines and her main streets, and worked her farms and her factories. I have campaigned and run for office there and I have talked politics with tens of thousands of her citizens. I know Michigan like the back of my left hand. Michigan knows these jobs ain’t commin’ back and does not need any more painful reminders. As Michael Moore, also a native of my home state has pointed out: with the last downsizing General Motors now employs fewer workers nation-wide than it used to employ in his home town of Flint. Michigan has paid a frightful price for the success of her auto industry. In boom times Michigan was at the industrial center of the world. Jobs were begging for workers and Michigan lent a helping hand to generations of poor blacks and southern whites who came north in the twentieth century in order to get a foothold on the middle class. Michigan could afford to be generous as it gave truth to the American Dream. I know this firsthand: my step-father came north as a young man from Missouri to take his place in her factories. But for the last three decades, driven by corporate greed and inspiringly stupid national economic policy, the lights have been turned out throughout the water-winter wonderland and will not be lit again in our lifetime.

It’s too bad…McCain had been enjoying a slight lead over Mitt Romney until he opened his mouth. Romney is the son of former Michigan Governor and, briefly, 1968 Presidential Candidate George Romney. George, like most in Michigan, had made his living in the Auto industry, rising from salesman to president of American Motors, then the third largest automaker in America. Under George’s tutelage American Motors thrived, introducing the Rambler, with its novel feature of having the front seats fold down into a mobile bed. This turned our rest stops and drive-in theatres into passion pits and brought profits to the company. And as what was good for General Motors is good for America so what was good for American Motors was good for Michigan. George parlayed his stint in the corporate world into the governorship of Michigan which, though less successful, had the merit of introducing to state-wide office a politician from Traverse City, gentleman Bill Milliken.

Bill Milliken is a thoughtful man, articulate, handsome and, for a Republican surprisingly moderate and public spirited. His family made their fortune in the retail industry with the Milliken Department stores in and around Traverse City and Bill, with a sense of noblese oblige, entered politics as a young man. Besides revamping Michigan’s aging constitution the single most important thing George Romney ever did was make Bill Milliken his Lt. Governor. Romney was elected three times to the governor’s chair and then moved up to join Nixon’s cabinet during his third term in early 1969. Bill Milliken took his place and began his stint as Michigan’s longest serving governor.

I remember, in 1970, Sander Levin, now congressman from Michigan and brother of Michigan’s Democratic Senator Carl Levin, was challenging Bill Milliken as the governor ran his first campaign to be elected in his own right. I was chairman of the College Democrats at Grand Valley State then with the second largest membership of any such group in Michigan. Sandy came to ask for our support touting his anti-war posture in what he supposed would automatically win over our support. I was left unimpressed and did not move my organization to formally endorse or take part in the campaign for I could not see how replacing Bill Milliken would materially bring about a more enlightened Michigan.

I say this because the voice of Gentleman Bill still echoes down the corridors of state politics. He came out of retirement long enough to endorse Jennifer Grandholm, Michigan’s current governor and a Democrat in her two successful campaigns in an effort to undo and bring some balance to state government after John Engler’s wretched 12 years in office. Milliken is yet another reminder that this is not your grandfather’s or even your father’s Republican Party.

John McCain has got the endorsement of Bill Milliken. The man who ran with Mitt’s father some 40 years ago and succeeded him to office is now endorsing the man from Arizona. McCain had taken the Romney legacy in Michigan from the uncertain hands of George’s own son.

Mitt Romney had been reduced to Yesterday’s papers, like his father an obscure historical footnote in presidential politics until Marshall McCain shot himself in the foot with a cruel and flippant reminder of what has become of the great State of Michigan. And now the election is up for grabs, as of this writing too close to call.

The odd man out, in the Republican contest in Michigan, will be Mike Huckabee who is exploring the outer geographical limits of fundamentalist appeal. He will discover that those of us who hail from Ludington’s old fourth ward like our whiskey strong, our talk straight, our women loose, and our children and our politics without benefit of clergy.

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