Snyder's shortfalls 

Why society's leaders think Snyder is the best they've got to work with

It's official: Rick Snyder is the establishment's choice for governor of Michigan. The Detroit Free Press, which usually endorses Democrats (if they don't threaten that paper's economic interests) made it unanimous last weekend.

After listing where they disagree with Snyder, the newspaper adds: "The most important choice Michiganders face has less to do with policy preferences than it does with the need for leadership and independence in Lansing.

"We're confident Snyder will bring both."

If the Free Press editorial board really is confident he can get the job done, they're idiots. This is, they must know, a crapshoot at best. Nobody has any idea whether this somewhat aloof, self-described nerd will work and play well with others. We know he has no experience at politics or government, know he has never strong-armed or sweet-talked any bill through any legislative body, know that he is a wooden speaker who did his best to duck debates.

He only won his party's nomination because his more-right-wing opponents carved each other up, and because disillusioned independents and Democrats voted for him in the belief that a Republican was almost certainly going to win, and that Snyder seemed better than Mike Cox, Pete Hoekstra or the now-oafish Mike Bouchard. Even with that, the winner got barely 37 percent of the vote in a tiny turnout.

However, those who consider themselves society's leaders think he's the best they've got to work with. (The ones in Detroit thought the same of Kwame Kilpatrick in 2005. Freman Hendrix, a man comfortable with union locals and small business owners, made them uneasy.)

By the way, if you think this is a Virg Bernero commercial, it isn't. Voting for Rick Snyder may not be the wrong choice. I was originally appalled by the notion of a Bernero candidacy. He has taken money from Matty Moroun, opposes the proposed internationally owned new bridge, and appears not to understand the issues at stake or who Moroun is.

He runs for every office in sight, usually as soon as he gets elected to a different one. Too much of the Democrat's campaign has been based on improper and demagogic issues: Bashing China, for example, and claiming Snyder wants to send all our jobs there. He's also tried to portray his opponent as some kind of anti-abortion fanatic who would gravely endanger the reproductive rights of women in Michigan. There's no evidence of that whatsoever.

When one listens to Bernero, one sometimes thinks he believes that with a little tweaking of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, all our high school graduates again will be able to get good jobs at Oldsmobile.

However, I have developed a grudging respect for the cheerfully angry mayor's never-say-die style of campaigning. He's brought up a few ideas worth thinking about, such as a state bank to make small loans to businesses. He's done his best to carry the battle to his immensely rich opponent, with little money or support, and little media pressure on Snyder to give us the debates we deserve.

Bernero is also energetic, damn it, and really seems to care. Yet his chances are abysmal. Any Democrat's would be this year. That's partly because eight years ago, the Free Press and virtually every other media outlet in this state fought to see who could do the most to kiss up to a Democrat named Jennifer Granholm, then running for governor. She was beautiful, we were told. Brainy! Accomplished! Went to Harvard! She was on The Dating Game! The Free Press endorsed her with even more glowing praise than they gave Snyder. Granholm was going to revolutionize government in Michigan.

Besides, she was the first woman running for governor who had a serious chance, and it was about time. They wanted so strongly to believe.

Yet you only needed to talk to the pre-gubernatorial Granholm for an hour to see the danger signs: She didn't have a clue how to get a bill through the Legislature, or build the coalitions she needed. But the various establishments decided she was their choice.

That 2002 campaign was an embarrassment of riches, compared to now. Republicans, who nominated the conservative Dick Posthumus, could have chosen Joe Schwarz, for years the most capable, decent man in state government. Democrats also had the choice of Congressman Dave Bonior, then House Minority Whip, a skilled lawmaker who had also been in the Legislature, and Jim Blanchard, who had been governor for two terms and knew how Lansing worked.

But that meant nothing, because not only did we have a chance to elect our first-ever woman governor, she was mesmerizing to a world that hadn't heard of Lady Gaga yet. A Freep columnist suggested the U.S. Constitution be changed so our Canadian-born superwoman could run for president. Unfortunately, Lady Charisma proved unable and unwilling to make hard choices or tough decisions. Midway through her last term, even fellow Democrats in the Legislature sometimes treated her with thinly veiled contempt.

Other times, they didn't bother with the veil. Now, the powers that be are excited that we are about to elect a brilliant and rich self-described nerd, even though we haven't a clue how he will close next year's enormous budget deficit.

All we know is that the stimulus money is gone, and Snyder's proposal to abolish the Michigan Business Tax would make the deficit worse, at least in the short run.

We also know that unemployment benefits will completely run out by the end of November for 142,733 workers, who have been jobless for nearly two years. Money will be cut off to 324,000 by next spring, with no relief in sight.

What I think is that Campbell's Soup is on sale, and we all oughta get several cases to stack in the basement. Lasts for years, y'know.


Not trusting the people:
Earlier this week, I moderated a panel that included three politicians I generally admire: former state Rep. David Gubow, now a district judge in Oak Park; state Sen. Gilda Jacobs; and state Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton. All are liberal Oakland County Democrats, and all agreed that our state government doesn't work very well.

They also agreed that there are built-in, structural flaws in our present system. As I've noted here before, on Nov. 2, the voters are going to be asked if they want to call a convention to consider writing a new constitution.

After the panelists had talked about how things weren't working, one audience member asked each member if they would support a constitutional convention. They all said no. For one simple reason: They don't trust the people.

They didn't say it in those words, but that's what they meant. Gubow talked about the "present climate not being right." Lipton said she had worked hard to make stem cell research legal, and feared right-wing crazies would write a constitution that outlawed it again.

Those may be legitimate fears, but what kind of democracy can you have if you fundamentally don't trust the people? If we aren't willing to gamble that we can figure out a better way to govern ourselves, we might as well petition Queen Elizabeth and ask her to take us back as colonies.

My guess, however, is that she's too smart for that.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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