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

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, , , ,

Civil Rights of the 21st Century

In one of the clearer aspects of Senator McCain’s vague acceptance speech tonight, was the call for education as “the civil rights issue of this century.” And at the heart lay some important nostrums dear to conservative hearts. As he expressed it

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them. Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children will have that opportunity.

What is notable is the increased role of charters in all this. While there is good reason to think that charters can provide plausible alternatives to parents, the actual educational data is more mixed, as a report from the Detroit Metro Times makes clear.

On the 2006 English and math MEAP tests, charter school students below the overall state average but better than the public school district in which they were located. Measured by ACT, charter high schools reported an average score of 15.5, well below the overall state average of 18.8, if slightly better than the 15.3 of Detroit schools.

While much of the above disparity is generated by the make-up of the charter schools themselves (students in Michigan are more likely to be poor), a second aspect would be the teaching staff. The lower teacher salaries may be read as indicating a younger or less qualified staff.

In short, charters like their parochial cousins, have not found a way to escape the gravitational pull of poverty. The conservative nostrum of easy exit doesn’t exist.

Likewise, the notion that if you only paid (select) teachers more, you would get better results also has been running aground of late. From the conservative Fordham Institute comes the editorial by Michael Petrill, pointing out that rewarding teachers works well if you’re in a place where teachers want to go, say Ann Arbor or East Grand Rapids. But what if you’re in Pullman, Mecosta, New Era or Baldwin? Who goes to those places? By stratifying the teaching pool, pay to perform actually works against educational opportunity, matching the poorer performing teachers with the more undesirable locations.

Be it charter, or teacher pay, or even vouchers — each of these solutions represents at best, a variety of magical thinking on the part of the present GOP, policy hopes that somehow the right option will solve their problem. At worst the turn to these solutions represent little more than an empowerment of the already well off districts or cities.

But Sen. McCain and the GOP are right about this being the Civil Rights issue of the 21st Century. And here in Michigan and the midwest, our educational system is a necessary component if we are to have future we can embrace.

Filed under: Education Policy, , ,

Doubling Down on Palin

There’s no question the selection of Sarah Palin has been a hit with the social conservatives. E.M Zanotti (aka American Princess) loses herself:

I AM SO EXCITED OMG PLEASE LET THIS NOT BE A HEAD FAKE OMG. I have resisted blogging on the whole McCain Veep thing because they kept faking everyone out and telling us that this guy was clearing his schedule and this guy had the Secret Service creeping out and NOW there’s a CHARTERED JET that is landing from ALASKA and OMG SARAH PALIN OMGOMGOMGOMG!

“Whoo-hooo” also seemed to be the reaction of the day. While enthusiasm reigns the politics — the Michigan politics in particular — has me wondering.

Palin clearly comes from the Huckabee side of the Party. For them, Palin’s definitely their gal. In a somewhat parallel way, she plays the same role, receives the same enthusiasm from her base, as Obama does with the African American community. Both look like game changers.

If Palin’s candidacy is seen as fairly successful, if she brings her social conservative creds to the table while also being an effective spokesperson for the ticket — then this will add to the clout of the social conservative wing. she will fulfill her promise as a unifier. The base is rightly seen as fragmented. In terms of the upcoming gubernatorial race, Palin would seem to strengthen Terri Land’s standing, both as a successful woman, and as a social conservative (Land’s natural constituency).

But what if Palin crashes and burns?

Then the blame game comes out, the base fractures. In Michigan state politics we can see a noticeable tension between Mackinac Center and the Religious Right; or to cast it in terms of West Michigan, that tension between Ada and Grandville. The primary race in SH-72 bears the populist social conservative Yonker v. the economic liberatarian, Justin Amash. If a strong Palin run adds to the credibility, a compromised run will open the door to the economic conservatives and their belief that the way out of the political wilderness is to run even more as “a principled conservative.” In that case institutional conservatives like Mike Cox or even Peter Hoekstra would look more plausible.

Whether Palin is game-changer nationally, in Michigan she will either stitch together a party, or open up divisions. Whatever her riskiness is to McCain’s chances, she definitely brings it to State politics.

Filed under: Elections, National, , , ,

Amy Sullivan was right

Up north, I had the opportunity to finally get to some reading, including Amy Sullivan’s The Party Faithful. There’s more to be said about the book, but of immediate interest (certainly with the election breathing down on us) was her view of the current state of evangelicals and the Democrats. The hyper-partisan nature of the previous elections hides how often the two groups actually share common views. That was certainly the case when the conversation turned to politics at our camp; two in particular stood out. Both were self-described evangelicals; both also held significant positions in Fortune 400 companies. And as each described his own confusion about the issues, what troubled him and how he was leaning, I could hear echoes of Amy Sullivan’s point in her recent book

One friend spoke about the issue of social inequality and how the poor and the middle class are increasingly vulnerable. He was unsure about Obama, and naturally trusted the perceived experience of a McCain, but this question about our society and justice — this bothered him. Something had to be done.

The next conversation was even more striking. It was the war, and its toll. He was adamant that we should be getting out; that in economic terms alone, the war was a disaster for our economy. On other issues he longed for an overturning of Roe v. Wade. But even there, pushing a bit more, the notion of reducing the overall number of abortions (birth control availability, better education, more economic security for young mothers — see the Democratic platform) was certainly appealing, and not one to be rejected.

The two conversations underscored Sullivan’s point that Evangelicals have shared many progressive attitudes. This is good news for Democrats, all the more as the Republican Party (at least at its local level) seems intent on repeating the nostrums of the political past. These issues held close to the heart, these issues that nag the conscience of even conservatives gives freedom to Dems to be bold.  All the more as the model of abortion reduction appears to be a path to dampening the usual critiques.  In short, now is no time to shut up.

Filed under: Community, Faith, , , , ,

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