Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Back to work with Obama the "labor guy"

While a lot of bloggers surf the edge of the news cycle, hoping to be the first ashore with a brilliant insight, one can also take a break -- perhaps lounging under a shady tree with a refreshing drink, getting some perspective on what is really urgent and important. It could take an hour or, in my case, the entire month of August. So now it's back to work. There is a presidential race to parse!

Michigan, according to the latest polling numbers, seems to have morphed from a deep blue state into a pale blue swing state. The latest (8/18-8/21) EPIC-MRA poll of likely Michigan voters has Obama at 43 percent, McCain at 41 percent, undecided at 13 percent. Expect a lot of attention from the candidates as they attempt to solidify core supporters and woo undecideds.

Obama will be the "labor guy," as he told union organizers at Detroit's Hart Plaza yesterday. But what of McCain? Will he court west Michigan as the "family values guy" or will he leave that to running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin with a gender-based division of campaign issues? Family stuff, that's women's work. McCain can deceptively appease the religious right trotting out Palin as a distraction from his mixed record on abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage.

According to the Detroit News, McCain's pick of Palin and his appearance at Saddleback megachurch earlier this month are winning the hearts and minds of social conservatives. Yet, it's the undecideds who are really up for grabs and they aren't a monolithic chunk of social conservatives or labor supporters.

Perhaps McCain will present himself as the "upper management guy" delivering more sober and pessimistic anti-union news to the people of Michigan as he did during the primary. However, telling Michigan voters that automotive jobs lost will never return won't win over marginally employed lunch-bucket Democrats, even if it is true.

Obama has a better spin on resuscitating Michigan's terminally ill automotive-centric economy. Automotive jobs lost (nearly half a million in the last ten years) can be replaced with work creating alternative energy -- green jobs -- and the federal government can subsidize the development of this sector. Sounds great. But how can he promise that Michigan will be the center for this activity? Lots of states could use the economic perk of a hot new technology sector and once a government program is established all states will want a shot at winning those jobs and dollars. Unless Michigan's congressional delegation has a lot of favors to call in, don't count on half a million green jobs for Michigan in 2009.

No Republican presidential candidate has carried Michigan since 1988. It is still a blue state. If Obama can appeal to the romantic memory of all that is good about labor unions and organizing and grassroots activity and community empowerment, he has an excellent chance in Michigan. If McCain patronizingly talks about inevitable demise of Michigan manufacturing through globalization and outsourcing, Obama has an excellent chance in Michigan. If McCain goes deceitfully negative, projecting fear and loathing of difference onto Obama, evoking unseen faceless enemies, things may get close.

From my shady spot though, this pleasant peninsula still looks like the perfect backdrop for Obama's economic narrative. Make it a "Main Street" election. Security begins with the pocketbook on the kitchen table.