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

Pure Folly

On one level, you couldn’t really blame them. It seemed like such a natural: a chance to do the victory lap and reinforce the Michigan brand.

So they put it up for all to see, there in the Wall Street Journal: Pure Michigan, now RTW.


And really, who can blame them? The Pure Michigan campaign has created a solid brand for the State. Why not use it, then, to piggyback an emotional punch to the political? As brand experts have been pulling out their hair in protest, such a move lacks strategic and economic sense. It is sloppy and it puts Michigan’s second industry, tourism, at risk.

On one hand the cost of the ad, the brag of  $144,000 is more a vanity than a pitch and so unlikely to generate much business. Certainly the numbers look that way. By its own accounting, the Pure Michigan has generated a billion in new business. In contrast, what does the direct RTW pitch get its backers?  Perhaps not a lot, if we look at Indiana, certainly not anything on the order of the billion dollar revenue. To the extent that such a stunt jeopardizes the larger, successful campaign, it can hardly be called wise.

But are things really in that sort of danger?

In making Right to Work a business calling card it brands the state as surely as the tourism campaign. As with all partisanship, this political edginess gets in the way of the State’s competition for tourist dollars. It’s a conundrum, the more successful the State is in establishing this partisan identity  the more it risks alienating a portion of the market. Some will find the right wing turn sufficiently distasteful and so spend those dollars elsewhere. This degrading represents a real business risk.

Now this risk will ease over time, but not entirely. Had MEDC kept the campaign separate, it could negotiate the partisan blowback with continuing with tourism advertising. After all it works with the white sands of Alabama and Texas. And here is  the real problem with the RTW/Pure Michigan play: it creates a disincentive with the audience while at the same time robbing the tourism bureau of one of its tools.

Finally, if RTW is the game-changer they claim, that it changes the “product” so to speak, then it would be far better to craft a distinctive advertising message of its own. Here the ad reveals the ambiguity Lansing. Is this really a game changer, per the advocates? Or something like business as usual? How big is the rift? That Lansing and MEDC would turn to the Pure Michigan theme suggests a viewpoint that believes this will not be a move of continuity rather than disruption. It is a view of hope and unwarranted optimism.

Filed under: Economy, Michigan, , , , , ,

The Memory Landscape of Willard Romney

It was one of those awkward moments, made all the more so by its very earnestness: Mitt  Romney spoke of his love for Michigan. Before the campaign leaves the State, perhaps its time to unpack his love, and why it fell so short.

For the record, here’s part of what he said:

“A little history — I was born and raised here. I love the state. It seems right here. Trees are the right height.

“I like — I like seeing the lakes. I love the lakes. Something very special here. The Great Lakes but also all the little inland lakes that dot the parts of Michigan.

The words are made even the more awkward by a peculiar little hand twitter on “inland lakes,” but rather than dwell on the failure, a better question is to ask, what was he trying to communicate in the first place? What did he hope to connect to? Even the bad — especially the bad or disastrous communications come packed with intention. Disasters are rarely accidental.

So let’s  scrape away the phrasing. Underneath, this is a landscape those in Michigan recognize: the country dirt roads shadowed in summer; the way the big trees hug the state highway, the mix of sumac, elms, and chestnuts at the hedgerow; the dark rhythm of old oaks etched with new snow; the last blaze of yellow on a football Saturday.  These are not the trees of our North, but those nearby, near our towns, nestled by the lakes left by glacier with names like Gun, Chippewa, Big Star, and Murray, Silver, Crooked, and Whitmore. While commentators look at our Great Lakes as the dearly loved, it is this other, inland landscape that’s interesting.

These are the kettle lakes, the leftovers from the great glaciers, folded in by the gently rolling landscape of moraines and modest hills.  We do not have escarpments or towering heights. We lack the great defining rivers. Nor is ours the fertile prairie landscape of Indiana or Ohio. These are the lakes close to home, the Saturday destination in a landscape before interstates. Their shorelines often partially undeveloped, dotted with little resorts of small cabins that offered working men and women (and executives) a place to go on the weekend, a refuge.

Romney is on to something, his words point not to the present, but to that earlier time, when he was the teen, when this landscape was not yet consumed by development. It is, as his reference to cars indicates, the landscape of Mitt’s remembered youth.

Mitt’s earnest awkwardness arises then, with his memory. The repeating, the turning back to his themes — this is the language of emotion that does not have the words; the words that seem so inadequate to convey the lost time and its rich associations.

But if memory betrays him, there is another rhetorical betrayal tucked into his words. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: National, , , , , ,

Theocracy slips away

Here in the heartland of the Christian Right in Michigan one can sense the energy beginning to drain. Certainly the letters to the editor are not so virulent. But you won’t see many Jack Hoogendyk signs about. And when social conservatives have run, as in the 72nd, the issues were those of leadership v. true (economic) conservative. Even Gary Glenn’s recent protest seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Is this really a case of summer doldrums? McCain? Or has something changed? According to this week’s release of the Pew Report on Religion and Politics, it appears that things are indeed slipping for the Christian Right.

In the poll a majority (52%) now say churches should keep out of politics. Compare this to 2004 when 51% thought churches should express their views.

The Pew data gets real interesting when we look at the subsets. This is a shift in conservative opinion even more than it is among Republicans. On the key social issues (gays, abortion), half of those with strong views now also believe that the church should keep out.

2004 2008 Change

% saying churches should keep out

Among those who say….

Gay marriage
Very important 2004: 25 2008: 25

Very important 2004: 33 2008 : 49

What appears to be going on is that conservatives are growing in their disenchantment with the Republicans to deliver on their core issue. The Impact of this failure is all the more prominent when we examine the role of education. The shift in opinion lies principally among those without a college degree (an 11 point jump). This is the heartland of the conservative populist vote, our old “Reagan Democrats” or of our out county voters.

They still want those conservative values, but they’ve grown disenchanted about the means to achieve them. Clearly, the role of the Church (evangelical or Catholic) to act as a conduit of their dissatisfaction hs diminished. (I think this a serious problem for especially the evangelicals). Tactically, that’s good news. Conservative appeals will now rest on the guns, patriotism, and class resentment (Obama as elitist). As the battle turns towards the economic, there is an opening here for at least conservative Dems to walk through — as the Virginians Gov. Kaine and Sen. Webb have shown.

At another level, the fading of the church’s political role likely indicates the growing sense of disenchantment. In Michigan, we know it in the general grumpiness about the economy and the penchant for silver bullets. The residue of the faded theocratic moment may be a loss of vision and imagination. And long term that’s our common political struggle.

Filed under: Elections, Faith, , ,

Vacation Time

There’s a reason we live in Michigan.


So while I will enjoy this, I will not be writing. Back on the 16th.

Pictured Rocks Beach, by mandj98 at (

Filed under: Personal,


August 2020