Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Showdown in the Motor CIty

While I’m here doing schoolwork and chores, Democrats from across the state are meeting (and voting at this hour)  to elect a chair. And by all accounts, the battle should be a doozy. Certainly the campaign has been intense with both incumbent Mark Brewer and challenger Lon Johnson sending out numerous pleas, as well as motivating their forces. This has already been covered on numerous blogs and posts, perhaps most consistently at Michigan Liberal.

While the battle has been fierce, the issue is finally less about the individuals than the shape of the Party. The painful truth of 2012 is the political weakness, first with the  defeat of Prop 2 and then the lame duck enacting of RTW and other questionable legislation.  The tools to challenge or impede this were noticeably missing. Add to it the  resignation of Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway (and her subsequent conviction), and we have a Party that for all its national strength has not found the a way to translate that into state-wide leadership.

The failure is strategic. it does not rest on the shoulders of a single individual, nor can one blame the UAW, that favorite whipping boy of so many. The problems are more structural in nature, something that Johnson caught sight of in his interview on Eclectablog:

This is a very different state structure-wise than any other state that I’ve worked in and I’ve worked in a lot of ‘em.

In what way? What do you mean by that? How is it different?
Institutions play a larger role, without a doubt.

You’re talking unions, in general?
I’m talking unions. I’m talking other groups. We have a respect for institutions. I think our party does and our party activists, not only do they play a larger role, but we see the value in institutions because there is a great value in them. We are a better party because of it.

What has certainly happened is that the balancing and politics of various institutional forms has handicapped the ability of the Dems to field strong state-wide candidates. Without strong leadership on top, it makes the electoral challenge of turning out low-information voters. And this is the strategic question at its core: how do Dems as a whole combine to think in terms of winning the off-year.

On this strategic question, neither the incumbent nor the challenger have suggested any real solutions.

From the Brewer camp has come an emphasis on redistricting as the culprit. Redesigned seats could give one or more congressional seats and perhaps a majority in the State House, but this would do nothing about the core failing in terms of winning state-wide, or of better mobilizing generally in off-years.

For Johnson, the focus has been on the adoption of campaign techniques from OFA, and in particular on the focus on expanding the base to the young, minority, women and low-income. In one sense this is the future, particularly the social media aspects of the outreach. Nonetheless, if the institutional silos remain, the problem of actually mounting winning statewide offices will still be significant.

No matter who wins in this hour, one fact will be true: Michigan Democrats cannot go on as they have.


When it came time, Mark Brewer withdrew his name, leaving only Lon Johnson. The strategic questions remain.


Filed under: Democratic Party, , , , , ,

Self-Inflicted Injuries

A version of this post also appeared at Michigan Liberal.

Michigan native and gimlet-eyed blogger Nate Silver asks what’s wrong with Obama in Michigan. It’s not a pretty picture, all the more because some of the reasons are clearly self-inflicted.

The campaign’s late start is a big reason. As he explains:

In conversations with friends and family during the Democratic primaries (I am originally from East Lansing), I did not sense much frustration with Obama in particular for his decision to withdraw his name from the state’s primary ballot after Michigan moved ahead of the DNC’s February 5 cut-off date and had its delegates revoked. But I did sense aggravation and dampened enthusiasm for the Democratic Party in general.

Of course, there’s a name for this: Mark Brewer. The diminished standing of the Democratic Party in Michigan can be laid at the doorstep of the botched primary, and that bungled constitutional proposal, Reform Michigan Government Now. Together, both have put the official party in something of a public relations hole. The disaster of the primary is further underscored by an observation many offered then, that the McCain team laid a solid Michigan reputation as a maverick, inoculating him from the national charge of “McSame.”

Failed Leadership.

Silver goes on Governor Granholm’s diminished standing also hurts. Last year’s meltdown in the state house has eroded the sense of trust in state leadership. Sadly, the lack of leadership in the Kwame Kilpatrick affair let a sore in Michigan politics get dangerously close to gangrenous. If nothing else, her silence let West Michigan distance itself even further from Detroit and the east side generally; and it certainly has let the racism of the northern suburbs fester. (And of course, there is the small part of Michigan’s business image).

Silver also points to the relative moderation of the GOP congressional delegation — I wish. But that only shows how low the bar has been set in the present conservative era.

The Task Ahead.

The work ahead will involve more national face time in Detroit and especially Macomb County For those of us out-state, it certainly means greater attention to motivating all the potential voters in those hard-R districts. A tight race means that margins become incredibly important, so those precincts and districts Dems normally avoid, must now be challenged. The ground game is more important than ever.

In short, there’s a whole lot of work to be done, all the more since we now belong to one of those official “Swing States.” All I can say, is that if we are going to swing, we’d better not whiff.

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , , ,

Selling Out Our Values

The item is relatively small, almost a toss away. Under the guise of election reform the Reform Michigan Government Now! proposal would “prohibit illegal immigrants from registering or voting” (as the UAW PowerPoint summarizes it).

Who could be against that? By definition you need to be a citizen to vote.  Rather obvious, really. Unless, of course,  our county clerks actually are registering large numbers of illegal immigrants. Were that the case, you would think Mike Cox would be all over this problem; the silence from his office certainly suggests that something else is going on.

So what motives would there be for this clause?

Motive 1: The Sweet Smell of Xenophobia. At the most obvious, RMGN is selling its reform based on xenophobia, on the fear of “illegal immigrants.” But not just any illegals — it’s not that the coffee shop conversations worry about Canadians or Irish sneaking in, it’s Hispanics. So we build a wall; we criminalize the worker (and force her to have her baby in jail); we abuse them. Or go to the conservative site and read the discussion, the casual contempt. The clause, then, can be seen as an appeal to a resident popular prejudice, one with more than a whiff of racism to it. As a Democrat, does this make sense? Hasn’t the anti-illegal immigrant stance o the Republican Party alienated the political affections of Hispanics and sent them to our side of the street?

Why then are we helping the other side out?

Historically, such a stance is not that foreign to some wings of the Democratic Party. It was, after all, the party of the segregationist South. On occasion, unions have barred access based on race. And the blue collar neighborhoods of Macomb north of 8 Mile have (home of the so-called Reagan Democrats) have their own complicated relationship with race.

Motive 2: “Protect” the ballot. It may be that this measure is there to tap the resentment expressed the recent voter ID measure. But as repeated reports have shown, this concern about voter fraud has been repeatedly shown to be a non-problem. Instead, it appears to be the creature of Republican operatives designed to raise the barriers to voting directly, or by creating doubts in potential voters. Not surprising, many Democrats and others concerned with civil liberties have raised objections to such measures: these have the intent of barring the poor and racial minorities from voting — populations that coincidentally tend to vote Democratic.

Again, should we suppose that RMGN would support such a flawed policy from the other side? Does it even make sense given the operational success of the voter registration drives of the past two cycles?

Motive 3: Trap Cox and Land. I suppose we could come up with a rather Machiavellian interpretation, that such a measure is designed to somehow embarrass Terri Land. Or perhaps to encourage Cox to overplay his hand as Attorney General. I suppose. I love the idea of setting up the other side. But since they already have helped us out with Voter ID and the like such a motive would be too clever by half.

So then, should we consider the phrase is there only as a matter of stupidity? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Community, Democratic Party, Michigan, , , , , , ,

Rumble on the Southbelt (3) — the Petri Dish

The Republican primary battle in State House District 72 (S. Kent County) pits three distinctive styles of conservatism against one another. In the August 5 primary we can begin to see the relative strength of each flavor of the party. Let’s take a look at them.

On one hand there is the conventional institutional Republicanism of Linda Steil. Her almost complete lack of external qualifications means her appeal rests on the continuation of a politics advanced by the chamber and by the Republicans in general over the past 15 years. She is the inheritor of term limits, maximal Supreme Court appointments — the sort that breed the counter action of Reform Michigan Government Now, an anti-tax theology, and generally the policy of government by lobbyist/PACs. Two difficulties arise with such a stance, First, this approach like that of its Democratic counterpart (that’s you, Mark Brewer) is largely responsible for the Legislative meltdown. Second, institutional Republicanism is generally a little sloppy as to its own discipline — they like to travel large (the peak at the finance statement shows a repeated pattern of paying top dollar).

With Justin Amash, we see the Movement Republican or Libertarian in full bloom. It is always nice to be an individualist when you already benefit from the lucky gene pool. His argument for “Principle” is little more than a guise for ignoring community concerns. It is also the viewpoint of the young (and the male): this is the classic style found on many conservative web sites; small wonder too, that Amash likes Ron Paul. Amash represents one approach to the Instititutional approach of a Steil — in essence, they are not pure enough. Oddly, in this idealism and youth, Amash taps the same cultural vibe that Obama hits.

A second alternative to institutional Republicanism is the Social Conservative style of Ken Yonker. This approach emphasizes the community — in its hard form, it is the use of legal proscription to enforce certain mores (Rep. Agema is a walking — or is it, hunting? — example of this); in the its soft form the community-focus takes a pragmatic approach. Yonker’s positions partake of both sides. His school board membership, his business history (considerably longer than the others) give a more practical air to his campaign. Relative to the Institutional, this is a focus on cooperation; relative to the Libertarian, it finally rejects it, but just barely (a fine post at The American Scene explores this tension in the Right).

These are the three organisms alive in the precinct petri dish. So what do we look for?

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, , , , , , , ,


August 2020