Tuesday, May 09, 2006

We have to know our voters?

At a recent political gathering a high-ranking political operator was recruiting volunteers to man phone banks (called victory centers) to help discover "who our voters are." That struck me as very odd.

The problem with too many politicians, and apparently the parties they hail from, is they're trying to find out who their supporters may be instead of articulating a vision of America (or Michigan) and letting the policies and platform speak for themselves and attract supporters. Candidates should want voters to discover who they are. It's called leadership. It's called statesmanship. And so far it's missing from this year's campaigns.

How are we to confidently stand on someone's porch to collect petition signatures when we can't describe a candidate's positions in terms other than; "they aren't a democrat" or "vote for them so Nancy Pelosi won't become speaker" or "vote for them because jobs are important?" And what exactly are they going to about jobs? Or my favorite, "Vote for me: I'll suck less than the other guy."

We deserve the blame for the blandness of our candidates, both democrat and republican. Most of Michigan laughs at Detroit's expense due to their habit of electing ineffective politicians that seem to have had little impact on the city's state of affairs. They prefer mayors with big talk and big possies to mayors with big sticks. Detroiters seem to prefer a council that can't manage to work cooperatively with its own members much less with the mayor. Perhaps Detroit politicians' combativeness and administrative thrashing is exactly what Detroit voters want because the voters keep putting them there.

So what does that say about the rest of the state's candidates? The republican party has again proven its appetite for political infanticide by christening a single candidate for governor like they've done in years past with Bob Dole, Dick Posthumus, and John Engler. DeVos (pronounced de-vos') has no competition in the primary and therefor no reason to articulate anything that might attract criticism. The only thing substantive is his objection to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI). In a press release reported by the Michigan Daily DeVos said:
"I am particularly concerned that this initiative may have the unintended consequence of negatively impacting programs aimed at helping women in education. It may also restrict girls-only and boys-only schools that have proven to be successful."
Basically, DeVos is against the MCRI but not on the side of Michigan blacks, who oppose the MCRI because it would eliminate affirmative action programs in the state. Instead, his opposition is based on a stretch of the initiative's intent to mean something that basically doesn't exist already--single sex schools in public education. The ACLU was perfectly capable of erecting obstacles in 1991 but where do candidates stand on the issue today?

Besides, if you're going to oppose the MCRI why not do it with a convincing argument about how its language will violate instead of protect civil rights instead of some over-extended and poorly-extrapolated straw man? Jennifer Granholm did at least that much. Ultimately, I believe DeVos is secretly in favor of the MCRI but like many other candidates is afraid of the political consequences of taking a principled stand, braving the inevitable attacks of racism and defending his position with reasoned and persuasive arguments.

Jerry Zandstra is the only big-race candidate that supports the MCRI, and he's been all but abandoned by the state republican machinery.

We should be laughing at ourselves but lack the objectivity that allows us to laugh at Detroit.

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