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

A cheer or two for political courage

The President was in Toledo Friday, making one more stop on a victory tour for the auto bailout. By most accounts, the program has succeeded in its basic goals: safeguarding workers, communities and suppliers in the great auto meltdown of a few years ago. Manufacturing is now up. GM has added a third shift at Hamtramack, and even Chrysler is showing life.

A presidential win, that not only goes to Obama but to his predecessor, as well.

Still, folks dislike the deal. For them talk of saving industry, suppliers, communities cannot overcome the actual cost — estimated at $25 billion. These issues, the reluctance and the push back can both be found in Megan McArdle’s writings at The Atlantic, here in this blog cited by Lowry in The National Review, but also in a more measured published response, where McArdle admits

The worst fears of many critics—including me—were overblown. The government did not simply leave the bloated legacy costs intact in order to protect its political friends.

What the current debate highlights more than anything else, is the uncertainty of that initial decision, and the continuing skepticism about government action generally. This continuing debate driven in part by the ascendency of the Tea Party only further highlights the political courage of those who stood up, as odd a mix of political bedfellows as you will find: Virg Benaro, Mike Cox, Thaddeus McCotter, and our own David LaGrand.

That political courage takes place amidst uncertainty accounts for why so many go silent. Practical calculus paralyzes. We may believe but we muffle our voice. As with all things political, it is one part rashness, one part calculation of benefit and one part driven principle.

All this comes to the fore with the other current instance of political courage in our midst, that of Rep. Justin Amash. His co-sponsoring of the War Powers Resolution certainly belongs in the category of political courage. And then he adds to it with the success of his Amendment to protect Freedom of Information Act requests at the Homeland Security Agency.

Like those who stood up for the auto bailout these are actions whose actual outcome is uncertain (will hindsight prove him right? Wrong?), but that is the substance of political courage. And like those who came before, Rep. Amash moves with that mixture of principle (moral and philosophical) coupled with a mix of political calculation and political rashness.

And let’s be clear: political courage deserves its honor.

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Filed under: Economy, Politics, Washington, , , , , , , , ,

Game Changer

The Michigan GOP may finally have hit bottom  last week.  It wasn’t one last act of outrageousness, but a move of a different sort: Terri Lynn Land dropped out of the Governor race, and endorsed Mike Bouchard.

The move certainly shocked some observers throughout the State, but to those who have been following her press trail it was only a confirmation.  As an early front runner, there was surprisingly little in the way of commentary about the economic storm clouds heading Michigan’s way.  Where Peter Hoekstra tacked, and Mike Cox spoke forcefully about the auto crisis, she kept her peace.  And other observers have suggested that she didn’t seem to have the ideas and fire for a gubernatorial campaign.

No desire?  Or desiring something else?

There is other evidence however that she has a different office in sight.  Cranson and Golder at The Press suggest as much.  Could this be a play for the Lt. Governor’s spot, a quid pro quo?  A Bouchard-Land ticket would bring some definite strengths.  Of course, it may simply be that Bouchard’s east side connections are sufficiently deep enough that some third party will benefit, making the endorsement a sort of three-way play.

More intriguing has been the notion that she has her eye on the Third Congressional seat centered in Grand Rapids.  The endorsement of Bouchard puts her in contrast to the national partisan ways of Hoekstra, and on the side of pragmatic government – the very ideals the voting public associates with Rep. Vern Ehlers. And even in a redrawn map, this would be a highly winnable seat for a moderate Republican.  Of course, if the map gets sliced the way Peter Bratt intends, Land would have to move back to her native Grandville.

The gift.

Land’s endorsement of Bouchard’s candidacy lifts the Oakland County sheriff to the top tier of contenders.  Her moderate creds and lack of baggage elevates Bouchard’s standing in the GOP drop out contingent — those independents who fled the party in 08.  And just as important, she provides Bouchard with a campaign network centered in western and southern Kent County.

This network is certainly the significant resource.  As a practical matter, it means that Hoekstra will need to pay more attention to W. Michigan; and by expanding Bouchard’s reach beyond the east side, it forces Macomb resident Cox to devote more time and energy building his own team in the West. While the endorsement offers tactical advantages, its real impact is strategic. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, Politics, , ,

That old gang of mine

Vice President Cheney’s address the other day must be a mixed blessing to the local GOP folks.  On one hand, there was the old fashioned religion, delivered straight.  “You’re going to eat your carrots, and you’re going to like it!”  In a time of uncertainty about their own future, not to mention that of the nation, such blunt talk can seem like a sure foundation.  This goes right to the desire both to be right and also privileged about the world.  For all the seeming plain-speaking it is a sort of gnostic rhetoric: the world is nothing like you imagine (so you have to be tough).

And if you’re Peter Hoekstra, especially, this can seem very affirming.  The past week he’s been hitting the talk shows and newspapers attacking Sen. Pelosi.  And as Jeff Cranson in today’s Press notes, Hoekstra has also been getting noticed.  In the school of “I don’t care what you say as long as you spell my name right,” the congressman leads in Indignity Index in the current issue of Newsweek.  Not that  it fazes him.

All this  certainly matches his style: bold, out front, and an insider.   Just what Michigan needs.  As he explained to The Washington Times,

Republicans aren’t ready to take bold stands, and it is costing them politically among voters eager for reform.

Yet there’s a trap here.  The more the Vice President goes on the more, he reminds the public what it was exactly that troubled them about the Bush era.  This is the  attitutde that believes itself right, independent of the actual information — there’s a secret set of information that explains all, our gnosticism.  Naturally, this ends up in a sort of self-righteousness.

There’s no question that this red meat approach plays well with the base, especially the social conservatives.  They have not only been the true believers of the Bush era, but the entire Cheney-esque rhetoric resonates with their own theological understanding.  He’s plain spoken, long a mark of sincerity in the evangelical community; he sees things clearly as a choice, again finding its echo in the evanglical theology of decision, and to a lesser extent the Reformed mode of antithesis.  In his approach they  can trace their own viewpoint.  Cheney (and Hoekstra) reinforce their political consciousness.

But  as noted, this is a trap.

The Cheney-Hoekstra bring the internal motivation.  Hoekstra’s strong internal showing is proof of this.  But rumblings are underway.  Mike Cox’s focus on economics, on being the tax-cutter supreme is an appeal to the same populist segment.  Of course, his proposals are no more realistic than the Hoekstra-Cheney defense of the Iraq War c. 2003.  A party dominated by this sort of macho-political posturing will not be a party that inspires the broader trust of a struggling state (however much it reflects the real rage about us), let alone begin to think how we move forward.  The posturing is a failure of hope.

And in 2010, the one item Michigan voters will be looking for is this hope.

Update

Looking over the responses to Cox’s announcement this morning only confirms the Social Conservative love of Hoekstra’s national security creds.  This short note captures the sentiment well:

CHRISTIANS support torture because it keeps AMERICANS safe and alive and not dead and there was just a poll on it and everyone agreed to support it but i dont think that waterboarding is torture and thats what hoekstra says and thinks and speaks and remeber thay nailed jesus to the cross which was torture back then

I only want to believe this is an outlier.

Filed under: Elections, ,

Why the silence?

Looking at the gathering Monday at the Wealthy Street Theatre, you couldn’t really blame Republicans for staying away. It was a meeting on foreclosure dominated by area activists, minorities and Democrats — not exactly the kind of crowd that even City GOP members hang with. Still ceding the issue, letting The Press editorialize on it, leaves the Republican party exposed as being either disinterested, or worse unwilling to help homeowners.  Was it blindness?  Self-interest? Partisanship?

Whatever the case, they are behind the wave, and what is significant in the past week, silent.

The Background

The circumstances are by now, well known.  Last week Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox proposed giving $500,000 to help with Millennium Park, and Crescent Park tucked in the shadow of the Van Andel Institute.  The hitch?  This was money from the foreclosure settlement with Countrywide Mortgage.  And why these particular parks?  They were beloved of well-known Republican (and in fairness civic benefactor) Peter Secchia.

Yet this gift went unappreciated.  As it should.  With 10 foreclosures a day taking place in Kent County, and 5.5%  of all homes in foreclosure in 2008 according to this report from Dyer-Ives, parks were not the first thing that comes to mind in helping people, neighborhoods and cities handle foreclosures.  While the Mayor waffled, County Commissioner Brandon Dillon and Carol Hennessey, and Grand Rapids Second Ward Commissioner Dave LaGrand urged a better use of the funds, and last Friday, the AG relented.

(Phil Skaggs was also on the case big time — the story making it to the Chicago papers.)

So What Were They Thinking?

It is not at all obvious that home foreclosure should be the province of just one party.  Apart from the personal tragedy of lost home, foreclosures impact neighborhoods, lowering property values and reducing municipal revenue.   It would seem, this is the definition of a voting issue.

For the social conservatives, this would be especially important.  Home ownership is a commitment to place and family; loss of home is a family tragedy.  The neighborhoods that are hit — those along Burton, not to mention the villages of Kent City and Sand Lake — these are places where a Republican brand could take hold.

Could. That’s what has me thinking.  Helping homeowners, showing interest in their struggles is certainly consonant with what are purported to be Republican values, especially for social conservatives.  At a time when their brand has taken such a shellacking would it make sense to say something?

As a practical matter, there would be two kinds of political hay to be made here.  The first benefit would have been to be seen favorably by the very neighborhoods affected.  This would clearly be the case for anyone who had aspirations of running in the 75th to replace Robert Dean.  To not care about foreclosure can easily be read as not caring about the city.  That’s why it is so important to say something, anything.  The second benefit lies with those moderates who care about the issues but live in the suburbs.  Caring for the city has direct benefits for these voters — this is the standard ploy that so many of the Dutch Republicans have previously made on race; why Vern is considered a “moderate.”

If there is so much practical upside, why the silence?  Several reasons present themselves.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Community, Economy, , , , , , ,

Standing with GM

The future of Michigan and West Michigan politics is being decided not in our state, but in the corridors of Washington. For a few smart pols have seen the writing: now is the time to stand up for the state and yes, for the much maligned General Motors and the much-maligned auto industry. What is remarkable is the way that so many area and state politicians have become remarkably tongue tied about this. Some have not.

Bluntly, this is one of the most important issues to have faced our state. The enormity of a potential failure, the continuing impact of “successful” bailout can immobilize civic leaders.  The enemy at hand is the sense of helplessness, a sense that muffles our voice and dulls our imagination.

That silence is all to present. Where is Vern Ehlers? The last news on his official site is dated November 21. Is it too much to ask that we see him speaking out for jobs here in our community? Where is governor-wannabe Terri Land? Meanwhile Hoekstra has certainly said some things even backtracked, the better to protect his gubernatorial chances (of course, with the requisite, right-from-the-playbook swipe at unions).

Yet if some are tongue-tied, others are not.

Virg Benero speaks out eloquently, forcefully on the problem.

Grand Rapids City Commissioner David LaGrand has not only spoken, but is paying his way to lobby in Washington.  “Ten thousand jobs on the line” is how he puts it (and leaves you wondering about other leaders along the Grand)

And to be bi-partisan:

Gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Mike Cox has argued early.

And Thaddeus McCotter (CD-11) matches Benero for passion and forthright speaking.

This is a battle that will define Michigan politics for the next two years, and likely for far longer than that.  For those who aspire to real leadership in our communities they will have to stand up and be counted. Make not mistake, the battle for 2010 has already started.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

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