Like the grey February skies under which it has taken place, the Republican presidential primary depresses Michiganders because it evokes painful memories of the failed political leadership that recently caused our state to collapse.
The economic crucible from which we have emerged forced Michigan to largely abandon politicians who wedge us apart by peddling ideological discord and false hope. But the Republican candidates now crisscrossing our state have not learned anything from our searing experiences. These traveling medicine men insist on hawking the same dollar-a-bottle tonics. So, we turn away from them.
All eyes are said to be on Michigan, but the apathy here is palpable; it was symbolized by the sea of empty seats at Ford Field that engulfed Mitt Romney when he spoke there on Friday. News stories about the GOP primary are not listed among the most viewed articles appearing on local media websites. The airwaves are abuzz with super-PAC funded political ads, but they are mere distractions that we swat away. Campaign paraphernalia like lawn signs, bumper stickers and buttons is nowhere to be seen.
Hours before the presidential primary, almost half of likely voters still do not know for whom they will cast their ballots. According to one poll, a full 46 percent are dissatisfied with the slate of Republican candidates. Flagging enthusiasm among GOP voters is likely to suppress turn out on Tuesday, just like it has in other states this year.
Michiganders have disengaged because we are now savvy consumers of retail politics, and we know snake oil when we see it. We've stared into the abyss. So, we no longer can afford to indulge an ideological warrior whose economic policies are unserious, who moralizes, who wags his finger at us, who laces his rhetoric with theocratic condemnations of homosexuality, pre-natal testing, women working outside the home and President Obama's "phony" pro-environmental "theology."
We see a candidate's tortured attempt to explain away his opposition to the auto bailout for what it is: a political game of Three-card Monte in which he tries to distract us by ginning up anti-union animus. We know that a candidate who returns to our state in search of votes and waxes nostalgic about the height of our trees pretends to be, but is no longer, one of us. It is galling when a candidate who seems utterly devoid of any core convictions lambastes his opponent for not being a "true conservative."
Michigan is so tired divisiveness, sloganeering and empty promises. Why don't the Republican presidential candidates courting our votes understand, and react to, this new political reality? The same question should also be asked of President Obama who, like his Republican counterparts, has similarly refused to advocate workable solutions to our deepening fiscal problems.
Regrettably, many political and cultural battles have been fought in this state. Detroiters and suburbanites, standing on opposite sides of Eight Mile Road, waged war for several decades. Union leaders and management violently pounded on bargaining tables, condemning and spiting each other. The conservative residents of western Michigan and their more progressive counterparts in metropolitan Detroit acted as if they live in, not just different states, but different worlds.
Our endless combat brought us to our knees. We know that now. It caused Detroit to decay. It spawned dysfunctional labor markets and tax policies that stymied efforts to diversify the economy and retain and attract employers.
So, in 2008, when the economy imploded, we teetered on a precipice, one from which we have now backed away -- thankfully.
And, we seem to have absorbed valuable lessons about the dangers and destructiveness of ideological crusades and a refusal to meaningfully confront long-standing problems. Faced with existential threats, labor and management have entered into mutually beneficial collective bargaining agreements that put automakers and their employees on sound financial footings.
Leaders in Detroit and its suburbs now appreciate that the fates of their constituents are inextricably intertwined, that we are mutually dependent on each other. Thus, calls for cooperation have grown louder and more frequent; they resulted in the creation of an unprecedented regional authority to renovate and run a convention center located in downtown Detroit.
In our 2010 gubernatorial election, we unequivocally repudiated the type of political gamesmanship in which the GOP presidential candidates still engage. In the Republican gubernatorial primary, Rick Snyder, a self-styled "nerd" and policy wonk, easily defeated several hyper-partisan and ideological opponents. In November, he galloped to a landslide victory, but he ran, not as a conservative, but rather as a moderate, an empiricist looking for a "third way" to put Michigan on the right track. The Democratic candidate defeated by Snyder, Lansing mayor Virg Bernero, provocatively called himself "America's angriest mayor," and his campaign was defined by an incendiary (and anachronistic) populism.
Since taking office, Gov. Snyder has largely governed from the center. He appointed a Democrat, Andy Dillon, the former speaker of Michigan's House of Representatives, to be the state treasurer. Gov. Snyder successfully pushed through a Republican legislature an honest budget, one that remedied chronic fiscal shortfalls by requiring "shared sacrifice" from all Michiganders, including the wealthy.
In recent months, as Michigan's economy continues to heal, Gov. Snyder's popularity has steadily climbed. A plurality of Michiganders (46 percent) now has a favorable opinion of him.
It is, indeed, ironic that the GOP presidential candidates now flailing about in Michigan have in front of their eyes a Republican blueprint for responsible, effective governance. By ignoring Michigan's example, by clinging to the politics of yesterday, by continuing to sell voters nostrums and quack remedies, they have risked earning our contempt.
Worse, they are aping the reckless behavior of past Michigan "leaders" who almost drove our state off the economic cliff.