Politics and Prejudices: What do Democrats stand for?

Dec 17, 2014 at 1:00 am

Well, looking back at the year in politics, one thing became perfectly clear. The Democrats are in need of a soul.

A few days ago, I sat down with term-limited Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, one of their few stars.

"I think it's time to ask, have we lost our way as a party?" she said, as she prepared to end four frustrating years as the leader of a tiny knot of legislators who had essentially no power.

"Do we know who we are and what we stand for?" she asked.

What's clear is that the voters don't think so.

Democrats this year took on a governor who rammed through right-to-work legislation, cut benefits for the working poor, cut aid to education, gave businesses huge tax breaks that failed to produce jobs.

They raised millions. Their candidate for governor campaigned enthusiastically. Their hopes were high.

Then came the election, and they got their butts kicked.

Lost the governor's race, lost ground in both houses of the legislature, lost every seat in Congress they thought they had a chance to gain. Most devastating, their attempts to get more people to show up and vote, something on which they spent millions, flopped.

Fewer voted than the abysmally few who voted last time. Democrats lost in a state that has voted Democratic for president the last six times in a row. Democrats lost the governorship — again — in a state where Republicans never win elections for the U.S. Senate.

The reason why? They never made the sale.

Mark Schauer did a fine job of telling people what was wrong with Snyder, but he never told them what he would do instead.

Democrats lacked the will and the guts to say, "Okay, you want the roads fixed? Well, we're going to have to pay more.

"Matter of fact, the better off will pay much more than the poor. Yes, we'll repeal the pension tax. But we're going to have to get the money from somewhere to run the state."

No, Schauer didn't say anything like that. Maybe he was afraid Republicans would scream, "Class warfare!"

Well, guess what. If they'd asked my advice, I would have told the Democrats: That's just fine—Let them accuse you of class warfare.

Then tell Michigan the truth: Yes, we've had class warfare since 1981. We've been steadily transferring wealth from the poorest half of the population to the richest one percent.

There are vast numbers of scary statistics proving this. Here's just one: Back in 1980, the top 1 percent got about 10 percent of the nation's income. Two years ago, that shot up to 23 percent.

What's more, we've been making it harder and harder for the working poor to have any chance of reaching the middle class, and harder and harder for their children to get higher education.

We've been allowing the rich to pull the wool over our eyes for years. Question this, and the clever propagandists scream "socialism."

And the Democrats, who are supposed to be the party of the people, turn tail and run. With the exception of Whitmer, most of those I've talked to just don't seem to get it.

Some blame their candidate for governor. Some blame party chair Lon Johnson, who sold them on the turnout strategy.

Many are sold on the conventional mainstream media wisdom that Democrats need to move to the right to win. The myth is that this is how Bill Clinton got elected after Democrats lost three presidential elections in the 1980s. Nice theory, till you examine it.

Clinton won only because H. Ross Perot split the GOP and took millions of votes away from the first President Bush. True, he was a Southerner, which helped. But he got a smaller percentage in winning than the much-ridiculed Michael Dukakis got in losing four years before!

When Clinton took office, the first things he tried to do was allow gays to serve unmolested in the military and pass a national health care plan that was more radical than Obamacare.

Yes, he did later make accommodations with the right on things like telecommunications and welfare reform. But he wasn't elected as a conservative.

There are two Democrats, both in the U.S. Senate, who do know who they are and what they should stand for, and aren't afraid to say so. One is Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The other is a man who has become my personal hero, Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He isn't technically even a Democrat. He's an independent who openly calls himself a socialist.

Mostly, he just goes around telling the truth, pointing out things like "today, the United States has one of the highest rates of childhood poverty of any major country. What is the future of this country if we continue to turn our backs on our children?" He also takes scandalous positions, saying things like "no more bailouts for Wall Street greed." Instead, he wants federal "support to make college affordable for all."

Naturally, we'd never ever elect someone like that, any more than they'd elect one who said: "I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master."

Oops. That was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected president ... four times. I won't tell Fox News if you won't.

But somebody ought to tell the Democrats.

Another Day at Stalag Gannett

Andrea Farmer, a former student of mine, came to see me in tears recently.

The Detroit Free Press, a place she loved and where she had worked as a web producer for years, was laying her off at the end of the month. Not good news for a 35-year-old single mom in a shrinking profession. I gave her what leads I could.

Then, her story went from sad to bizarre. She was told she had to attend a training session in the newspaper's improbably named "Stevie Wonder Room" and help make a marketing video to help sell the newspaper, the same one that had just ruined her life.

That was sort of the flourish that Old Joe Stalin would have loved. But the Gannettoids didn't realize that they had freed her to tell the truth. According to JimRomenesko.com, the most respected blog in the news business, Andrea got up and said, "I was a web producer and I thought I brought a lot to the company. But apparently not, because I'm going to be laid off today."

Hint from the Kremlin: If you are going to hold a show trial, first make sure the pawns will play their parts. Farmer said she was summoned before Free Press publisher Paul Anger himself, who said, "I heard about your training video. I think it's in everybody's best interest to make this your last day."

My worry was that this might make it harder for her to get another job. "My aim was to try and get the word out so this never happens to another Gannett employee again," she told me. "If it means I never work in journalism again, so be it. What they've done and what they continue to do is wrong, and people should know what they are buying into (when) they buy a Gannett product."

My mistake and apology: Last week's printed P&P mentioned that state Rep. Frank Foster (R-Petoskey) had been defeated in last August's primary by one Lee Levering. Actually, it was Lee Chatfield, of the town of Levering. I deserve to be beaten. — mt