Capable of honor

Bob Alexander, who is running for Congress from a sprawling district that stretches from Oakland County through Brighton up to Lansing and beyond, is almost certainly going to lose in November, and that’s too damn bad.

What’s more, though hope springs eternal, Alexander is plenty smart enough to know his chances are dim. He is running against one of the GOP’s brighter stars, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, in a district Republican legislators designed to give Rogers the best possible chance of winning.

Two years ago, Rogers got 68 percent of the vote against a hapless opponent named Frank McAlpine. Alexander knows exactly what that was like; he managed McAlpine’s campaign. Alexander is happily married, enjoys life, and has a long and distinguished record as a teacher and in state government.

So why is he doing this? Simply because, at age 59, Alexander is a patriot. He believes in democracy; he believes the people of his district deserve a choice between sets of policies and priorities.

“I am deeply concerned about the major loss of manufacturing jobs in Michigan since George Bush took office,” he told me over breakfast in Brighton the other day. “I think we need to invest in our children by fully funding education, by expanding health care, and by restoring and protecting our environment.”

What’s more, he also thinks “we need to restore America’s credibility in the world by working with the international community to transfer the rebuilding of Iraq to the Iraqis and bring our troops home.”

All those positions are no more radical than mainstream Republican Party thinking circa 1970. But nowadays, ideas like those are enough to get Bob Alexander labeled a dangerous left-winger, if anybody noticed he was running.

However, he has one original idea worth noting because it makes such astounding good sense. Alexander is touting a “Rebuild America Plan” with a massive public works program to “put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work rebuilding our roads, schools, water systems and other needed projects.”

As everybody who ever leaves home and is not on angel dust knows, much of our country’s infrastructure is decaying or falling apart. When a factory needs new machine tools to build their products, they replace them.

Somehow, we have been allowed to think that spending money to maintain the arteries of our civilization is the work of the devil. I have been with natives of civilized countries, such as in those in Europe, and watched their expressions when they see how we fail to maintain our roads and bridges, etc.

Yes, nice to have something in common with the Third World. What Alexander proposes is having local governments issue bonds to finance infrastructure projects, much as they do now. But then he would authorize the federal government to buy these bonds — which would pay zero interest.

“State and local governments would pay the principal, but pay no interest. The taxpayers’ cost of borrowing would be cut in half.”

That concept may need tweaking, as the candidate sensibly notes. “It is only a proposal. It needs extensive input,” he says. But I think it is more exciting than anything George Bush or John Kerry have said all year.

Someday we will look back on politicians who opposed such proposals much as historians look at the many doctors who obstinately refused to wash their hands after a brilliant young physician discovered patients didn’t die nearly as often if their doctors washed up before examining them.

Trouble is, the doctor who made this discovery, Ignaz Semmelweis, was so ridiculed that he had a nervous breakdown and died in an insane asylum. Today, he is a medical hero. Let’s hope Bob Alexander, another man ahead of his time, is treated better for being right before the corporations were ready.


Dan Rather, CBS, and the letters revisited: One Joseph Muzingo, who calls himself a “once loyal reader,” beat me up for believing the memos were authentic that were critical of Bush II’s service in the National Guard.

“Someone forged documents in order to effect (sic) a national election and CBS reported it … doesn’t this bother you at all?” He goes on to accuse me of blatantly disregarding the truth because of my personal biases, etc.

The fact is that I did believe they were true. I had every reason to believe that an organization with the credibility of CBS would have thoroughly checked the authenticity, since it should have known full well it would be under tremendous scrutiny from the same folks who would happily believe any rumor, no matter how unfounded, about Bill Clinton.

Since I wrote that column, CBS has admitted making a regrettable mistake, and that the authenticity of the documents cannot be proven. Heads should and almost certainly will roll, and the aging Dan Rather well may be eased into retirement.

There was reason to believe that the network of Edward R. Murrow still had credibility. However, I also believed the story in part because a good part of the 60 Minutes story had nothing to do with the documents, but with a living Texas politician who said he helped pull strings to help Georgie dodge the draft.

What the apparently phony documents indicated (that George W. didn’t show up for his physical, and that there was political pressure to give him a good rating) has been whispered for years.

Significant, too, is the testimony of Marian Carr Knox, the secretary to the officer who allegedly wrote the damning memos. “These are not real,” she said. “They’re not what I typed, and I would have typed them.”

That’s been gleefully reported by the right. They haven’t been so quick, however, to report what else she said: that the content of the memos is, in fact, exactly what her boss thought about the spoiled frat boy, and that he did keep a “cover his back” file of secret memos about George W. Bush.

Whatever. So here’s a novel idea: How’s about finally moving the presidential campaign on from issues relevant in 1969 to, oh, say, 2004 or so?

Silly, I know. But maybe worth a try.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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