Politics & prejudices: The real lessons of Flint 

The poisoned water tragedy of Flint is a movie waiting to be made. You have heroes ­— the noble doctor Mona Hanna-Attisha, the dedicated researcher Marc Edwards, the brilliant, quirky, and driven investigative reporter Curt Guyette.

You've got villains: The clueless "relentless positive" accountant governor fixated on the bottom line: the smug emergency managers and the bureaucrats at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, plus the arrogant press spokesman who belittled anyone who asked about lead.

And you've got victims ­— thousands of victims — children needlessly poisoned by an out-of-touch government.

What isn't clear, however, is how Hollywood would see the moral of the story. What's more important is how America sees it. The biggest mistake we could make is to pin it all on Rick Snyder and a few of his minions.

What we all need to realize is that Flint is a postcard from our future, unless we get serious about fixing this nation.

Our infrastructure is falling apart. Too many of us are being left behind, and much of what's left of the shrinking middle-class economy is really a house of cards.

Consider one small example: The looming tower of student loan debt. Eight years ago, before the Great Recession hit, the cumulative total was only about $500 billion.

Now, it is $1.3 trillion ­— a figure increasing at the cost of $2,000 every second — the balloon mortgage payment from hell, threatening to swamp our future.

This exists in large part because the selfish greedheads who own Congress and our legislatures are no longer willing to pay their fair share in taxes to support higher education.

Not only that, as the law is presently written, kids can't even refinance their debt. Home loans can be refinanced, car loans can be. Even Bubba Gump can refinance his boat loan.

But we won't even help our kids get a more favorable mortgage on their futures. This is, of course, a gigantic house of cards just waiting to collapse. One of my students has completed all her coursework at Wayne State University, but can't get her degree because she owes the school money.

Additionally, she has a student loan debt of $80,000. Last I heard, the only job she could find was cleaning motel rooms. She is never going to be able to pay that back.

Nor will millions of others. Some will postpone marriage or child-bearing or be unable to buy a house. Others will just get behind and then default.

Yet do you see anyone in power doing anything about this? Do you see anyone proposing anything real?

Well, no — except for Bernie Sanders, that gravelly voiced old (gasp) socialist. He would allow students to refinance student loans, refuse to allow the government to make a profit on them, and eventually move to a system that would allow deserving students to get through college debt-free.

He'd pay for that, by imposing a small tax — way less than 1 percent — on the Wall Street speculators, who, as he put it "nearly destroyed the economy seven years ago."

Naturally, everyone will say that's impossible. That's what they always say when anyone proposes making this a better world. Yet once in a while, someone comes along and makes people see that yes, it really might be possible.

Nearly half a century ago, Bobby Kennedy did just that. "Some people see things as they are and ask why," he told enormous and enthusiastic crowds across this nation.

"I see things that never were, and say why not," he told them. He was well on his way to winning the Democratic nomination when he was killed by a crazy person for reasons that had nothing to do with what he stood for.

Kennedy might have spared us Richard Nixon and Watergate and four more years of Vietnam. We'll never know.

Hillary Clinton might indeed put some lipstick and rouge on the corpse of American democracy. She might even propose some cosmetic reforms that would slightly slow destruction of the middle class, at least before she got us into some new war.

But anyone who thinks she has any desire for any meaningful change hasn't been watching this campaign.

Anyone who thinks this country can go on the way it has and even pretend to have government by and for the people has to be stupid, very old, and very rich.

Bernie Sanders ­— crabby, cranky old Bernie Sanders — would probably increase my taxes. That might make it harder for me to take nice vacations.

But my biggest wish is that — for the sake of my students and for every child in American today — he gets the chance.

Will Rick Snyder resign? During the last few weeks, at least six people have urged me to call for the governor to resign, after his administration poisoned Flint.

The thought of not hearing him chirp "relentless positive action" ever again is powerfully tempting. But get real. That's not happening, unless they catch him in a crime.

And believe it or not, neither Republicans nor Democrats really want him to go. First, ask yourself this: If Snyder did quit, who would become governor?

When I asked that question of those who told me they wanted him to quit, half didn't know. The answer is Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, a boyish-looking 38-year-old who could walk around Somerset Mall unrecognized for hours.

Here's what we know about Calley: He is supposed to be more conservative than Snyder. He has an autistic child, and helped require insurance coverage for autism.

Other than that, nothing. Except this: Calley would suddenly be an incumbent, get overnight face and name recognition — and be eligible to run for re-election in 2018.

That last part would drive Attorney General Bill Schuette mad. Democrats wouldn't much like it either, especially if the lieutenant governor won over the public.

Some of them even remember way back to 1969, when another Republican governor, old George Romney, resigned to join the Nixon administration. He left a Calley-like successor, a man so young-looking he was often mistaken for a student by security guards in the Capitol.

Both parties figured he was a placeholder who would be gone the next year. But instead, William Milliken served as governor longer than anyone in Michigan history.

Nobody is suggesting Brian Calley is Bill Milliken.

But smart politicos know you ought to be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

Against the animals: The Michigan Legislature finally did something admirable last month. After years of trying, both houses passed "Logan's Law," a two-bill package designed to help prevent animal abuse by creating a registry of abusers and allowing those who run animal shelters to do background checks to prevent abusers from torturing more animals.

This was such a good idea that the bills passed unanimously — except for a single vote. Readers of this column may remember that I long ago identified Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) as the legislature's worst member, and he once again lived down to expectations.

Meekhof, who did manage to make it through high school, normally devotes his energies to fighting to try to make it more difficult for people to vote, and to try and prevent workers on state construction jobs from being paid a decent wage.

But he also opposed making animal abuse illegal, because, he said, he feared "we're getting precariously close to equating animals and humans." Actually, he may have a point there.

There's no way I would ever equate my wonderful Australian Shepherd, who is decent, sweet, loving, and intelligent, with a creature like Meekhof.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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