Monday, October 8, 2007

State of Michigan to the Democrats -- Where are You?

Posted at Off the Bus, a project at the Huffington Post.

Tomorrow's GOP presidential debate in Dearborn, Michigan will mark the second time in a month that GOP presidential candidates will have blessed Michigan with their presence. Democrats, where are you? Don't you want to run out in front of our "globalization hurts American workers with off-shoring" narrative and make a case for import tariffs or maybe a national, single-payer health plan? Perhaps you'd like to visit Detroit, which has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country and speak to the nightmarish financialization of our lives - connecting predatory lending, subprime loans, hedgefunds, lax mortgage and securities regulation and the global credit scandal?

Three weeks ago, the state GOP hosted Republican presidential candidates up at Mackinac Island, the traditional site for political parties to play capture the flag in Michigan. Mackinac is a quaint nod to some mythical, golden age, with a Grand Hotel and horse-drawn carriages and bicycles, fresh-water fish dinners and gooey, warm taffy. In the state wedded to the auto industry, for better and worse, power politics happen on an island where cars are prohibited.

Grover Norquist showed up and brought Kool-Aid to the GOP Mackinac barbeque - urging the state party to re-brand itself an anti-tax party. As political strategy in an economically limping state, this is not rocket science. Financially stressed people working two jobs to get by hate taxes. Wealthy people tired of supporting laggards hate taxes. Middle-income people struggling to save for college and retirement hate taxes. And people angry at a state government in disarray, especially hate taxes.

Michigan is a mess - politically, economically, culturally - which makes it a golden opportunity for the GOP or the Dems. Last week, the legislature and governor narrowly averted a partial government shutdown and junk bond status on Wall Street. The legislature had nearly eight months to create a balanced budget for 2008. In those months, the state GOP simply entrenched around "no new taxes." The Dems had no counter move and the process stalled. In the eleventh hour, exhausted adversaries hatched a half measure, which pleases no one and fails to resolve a fundamental fiscal flaw - a structural deficit that will persist for the foreseeable future, according to research by the non-partisan, non-profit Citizens Research Council. In fact, the state could face shutdown again at the end of October, if legislators fail to eliminate $440 million from the 2008 budget.

Which brings it back to the GOP. In the context of Michigan's chaos and despair, the GOP can show up and sympathize. That's about all it will take. Especially since the Democratic presidential candidates are absent from this tableau. Tomorrow night in Dearborn, at an event sponsored by the Detroit three and the Wall Street Journal, the GOP presidential hopefuls only need say the sweet things Michiganians want to hear. Tell us that you grieve the catastrophic loss of American heavy manufacturing. Tell us globalization hurts American workers. Tell us more people should have access to quality, affordable health care. Tell us predatory lending is despicable. When you couch those sweet nothings in talk of competitiveness and lower taxes, desperate Michiganians will positively melt.

Democrats, where are you?