Big questions for 2002 

Well, we’ve nearly survived 2001, and if we didn’t quite make it to the Rose Bowl, still, we did beat the Taliban, even if their top leader, Mullet Over or whatever, got away. It has, in fact, been a very long, exhausting and unnerving year.

Way back a long, long time ago, when Bill Clinton was president, I ended this column every year with an annual predict-the-future quiz, which, to embarrass myself, I took on the spot. As usual, my skills last year at reading the tea leaves were atrocious. I did accurately predict the recession, Detroit’s approximate population and that the Clintons would still be married. I also thought, correctly, that George W. would not yet have had an opportunity to further dumb down the U.S. Supreme Court.

But I also blithely thought the Pope, Ronnie Reagan and Boris Yeltsin would be singing with the angels, Scotty Bowman would be long gone, and Denny Archer would be preparing for a wild and crazy third term. So sue me.

Rather than humiliate myself further, this year I thought I’d instead suggest some things to keep an eye on in 2002, a year which, you will notice, is exactly the same when the numbers are read backward. That, my local voodoo priest tells me, has entirely no significance whatsoever.

Are we really willing to accept permanent war? That’s what the president has been telling us, ever since Sept. 11, that we’re going to get.

“Afghanistan is just the beginning of the war,” the Shrub told us. “Across the world and across the years, we will fight these evil ones and we will win.”

Emotionally, that sounded damn straight in September. Even now, pumping a steel-jacketed bullet into Osama’s skull sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

Yet declaring a permanent war against shadowy, ill-defined enemies is hardly an American tradition. Wiping out Al Qaeda makes sense, even if we have to send secret agents across many borders to do so. Ditto with putting the rest of the nutball world on notice that we aren’t going to put up with attacks on our citizens or our territory.

Yet using the World Trade Center as an excuse for a permanent war against anybody we think is a “terrorist” won’t wash in the end. The mobs in my street aren’t especially hot for a war against Iraq right now, let alone Somalia.

Again, it bears noting that there hasn’t been a single terrorist act against Americans since Sept. 11, except for the anthrax letters the next week.

When and if the “war against evildoers” starts seeming like Vietnam, watch for public opinion to shift overnight.

Will democracy come back in style? For years, the Republicans have gotten away with acting like they were all patriots and the Democrats all cowards, even when they ran a draft dodger for president against a Vietnam veteran. That nonsense has been sold so well the Democrats have been acting as if they half-believed it. They, and we, need to stop.

Mohammed Atta was not spawned by liberals, intellectuals or secular humanists. Let’s agree: Everybody hates the terrorist scum and wants them wiped out. Very good.

Now, as our Special Forces and their surrogates continue the clean out, can we get back to having a legitimate debate over this nation’s future?

Wrapping themselves in the flag, the Bush hypocrites have been systematically trashing environmental and arms control regulations for months, with barely a whimper from either the press or the Democrats. Demagogue John Ashcroft is a one-man wrecking crew who seems intent on smashing the First Amendment. Meanwhile, Social Security seems shaky, the historic surpluses are gone and we’re considering still more tax cuts for the rich. Huh?

What’s happening with Detroit? Which means, what will Kwame do? Transportation should be a priority, but so should the thousands and thousands of abandoned buildings which need to be knocked down. They are an immense psychological barrier to progress. How he copes in his first year with rough times, an unfriendly White House, and a council, most of whose members wanted Gil Hill, will be very telling.

What will Mike and Sharon do? Mike Duggan, after years as shadow county executive, was elected Wayne County prosecutor barely more than a year ago. Sharon McPhail, who tried for that job in 1998, was elected to City Council last month. Now there is speculation that both these political newlyweds, neither of whom has fully settled in to the offices they just won, are gearing up to run for the county executive job next August, now that Boss McNamara’s allegedly retiring. Will they?

Will we ever learn who Jennifer Granholm is? Consider the records of the major Democratic candidates for governor. James Blanchard generally got high marks as governor for eight years before losing in an upset, after which he served as U.S. ambassador to Canada and became a top Washington lawyer and fundraiser. David Bonior served for a quarter-century in Congress, won a distinguished leadership role and was instrumental in exposing and toppling Newt Gingrich. Granholm has been state attorney general for three years, before which she worked for Boss McNamara. Yet she is perceived as being the favorite.

Why? The answers seem to be: A) she looks good; B) she makes a very good speech; and C) isn’t it time we had a woman governor? Still lacking is any sense of what she would do as governor, or what she has done as attorney general. Will we ever get one?

That’s the opening menu. Plenty of other challenges and problems are certain to pop up, and we’ll still have John Engler, all year long. But however things play out, remember: Even in the dead of winter, the light lasts a little longer, every day.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail

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