"You are being called to something more right now, Jen. To somewhere you're never been. This is your crucible. So many factory workers are lost, so you are lost too ... maybe it's okay for you to be lost, Jen ... my point is, you're not God. So let it go. Let go of the ego."
— from A Governor's Story, by Jennifer Granholm
Last weekend, I took time off from the tanning studio to read the memoirs of our last governor, one Jennifer Mulhern Granholm, who claims to have written this book with her husband, one Daniel Granholm Mulhern.
You may not remember now, but nine years ago, she was adored. Matter of fact, she was compared for a while to Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Queen Boadicea, etc., etc.
One of the sillier Free Press columnists predicted that America might be inspired to change the Constitution so Canadian-born Jenny could become president. Personally, I was holding out for pope.
But it was soon discovered that Granholm, alas, had great difficulty deciding whether to order broccoli or carrots with her lunch. Once she did, she had even more difficulty sticking to her choice. Nor was she able to exercise any clout at all if the cook didn't give her what she wanted. She was spared execution by the voters, however, since she had the good fortune to run for re-election in a terrific Democratic year, against Dick DeVos, a right-wing opponent with the charm of a piece of shirt cardboard.
So she was re-elected. Things got worse economically, and so did she. At last we were liberated from Granholm, who, after professing her undying loyalty to Michigan, quickly moved to California.
By that time, she was about as popular as foot rot. Ironically, many turned against her for the wrong reasons. The national recession and the collapse of the auto industry weren't her fault.
Nor was she to blame for Comerica and Pfizer turning tail and abandoning the state, or for Mike Bishop, the Republican majority leader in the Senate, a "rigid right-winger," unable to compromise, "perpetually tan, wore shirts with his initials monogrammed on the cuffs, who used more product in his hair than I did."
However, she did completely fail to be any kind of effective leader. Once, after her re-election, her husband asked me for my advice, saying that they knew I'd been critical, but respected that I understood the shape the state was in.
Whether that was an attempt to flatter me, I don't know. What I told him was that she needed to go on television, tell the people that nobody had leveled with them, including her, and that we were in bad shape.
And then say we needed to raise taxes on those who could afford to pay; i.e., those still working, to preserve the things that mattered in this state — education and scholarships, etc.
He muttered that they might do something like that during the State of the State address. But his wife never did. In one of the most honest and candid passages in this book she admits she didn't have the guts to level with us, at least not during the re-election campaign.
"Dick DeVos and I both chose not to tell people the things that deep down we both knew to be true: That fixing Michigan was not going to be quick and easy, that our loss of manufacturing jobs was beyond the control of any governor, that we lived in a world that would never again allow high wages for low-skilled work."
But then, with the maddening hypocrisy that is her trademark, in the very next paragraph Granholm says, "It's not that either DeVos or I wanted to hide the truth from the voters."
Which brings us to the logical question: Why in the world did she write this book, anyway? Bill Milliken wrote no book about his time as governor, though he served almost twice as long in the office and left a fine record of accomplishment. John Engler and Jim Blanchard were far more successful as governors, but wrote nothing.
What was this all about? Someone who has known a lot of governors explained it to me. "This isn't for a Michigan audience. They've got her number. Nobody wants to see her, let alone buy a book she's written. We had eight years of her blowing us away.
"This is for Washington and New York audiences, to keep herself out there, to get speaking engagements and keep her job as a commentator on MSNBC, and maybe add to that."
Aw, shucks. I always was a naïve young boy.
Actually, the book, which is subtitled The Fight for Jobs and America's Economic Future, is so appallingly bad it is weirdly fascinating, starting with the weird, stilted dialogue it claims were real conversations, mainly between husband and wife.
What they actually sound like are Ayn Rand characters who have learned a whole lot of psychobabble. ("His words finally pierced my hard, self-pitying armor. It was my ego that was sucking me down." Finally, she told him "Thanks for caring so much.")
Had the former governor and defrocked "First Gentleman" been forced to give this a title reflecting the contents, this book would have undoubtedly been called, simply, Me. Or maybe, Alone.
The Michigan it represents is one where, indeed, our heroine is truly alone, fighting for truth, justice, and the American way.
True, the state had a secretary of state and an attorney general when she was in office, but they are never mentioned. Nor, by the way, is the current governor, nor the mayor of Detroit.
Former Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr. is mentioned once, though she spells his name wrong. No, it is just Jennifer against the world.
Or make that, Jennifer and Dan. Well, maybe. Perhaps unconsciously (or maybe not) it puts the odd dynamics of what seems to have been a clearly strained marriage on display.
Supposedly, they wrote this book jointly, though it is all in Jennifer's voice. Dan, she reveals, really wanted to be governor himself. He told the priest that was preparing them for marriage that if Jennifer was to run instead "I'd think I'd probably feel jealous."
"I'd have some adjusting to do. But ... I'd support her a hundred and ten percent." Atta boy. For her part, she admits that "it took years of honest tussle to see I'd never become like him: Introspective, intuitive, and eager to find the deeper emotional and spiritual truths in life's challenges. Those weren't my strengths or my way."
Well, okeydokey. At the end, she does become intuitive enough to tell a group of business leaders, "I regret my powerlessness over the global economy." One wishes she had asked Dan to help her channel her inner Chinese businessman, but it wasn't in the cards.
What's oddest about A Governor's Story, is not that Granholm totally ignores her most flamboyant failings, including her role in botching the 2008 presidential primary, or the time she appeared, beaming, with a con man her administration had approved for millions in tax credits. What's bizarre is that she seems to believe she fixed Michigan by using "DIY leadership — do it yourself."
The book ends with her telling us that "Michigan's jobs recovery is under way, and a chart touting "eleven months of hope," and adding, "Now that's the way it's supposed to be."
Unfortunately, unemployment is going up again. Oh, well ... hey, we could elect Dan Mulhern next time and bring them back!
Just imagine reading volume two.