Thursday, September 25, 2008

All eyes shouldn't be on Michigan

"I want you to feel the pressure, because Michigan could be the Ohio of this election." - First lady Laura Bush pumping up state delegates at the Republican National Convention

Sorry to burst Mrs. Bush's bubble, but there's a slim chance this ungodly long presidential race will come down to the Great Lakes State.

I know, I know. The national pundits think Michigan's where it's at. We're a great story with the highest unemployment rate, a beautiful but unpopular Democratic governor and an African-American ex-mayor of our largest city heading to the slam.

And stereotypes? We got your stereotypes right here. There are bowling alleys galore to pensively interview those all-important blue-collar Macomb County voters, diehard deer hunters in the rustic U.P. to rhapsodize about Sarah Palin and patchouli-drenched students in the People's Republic of Ann Arbor to philosophize about Barack Obama.

Who am I to dissuade the national press corps from our exceptionalism? So let me sincerely roll out the welcome mat for Anderson Cooper, Joe Scarborough, Katie Couric and your posses. Please come revel in our Water Winter Wonderland and throw money at our hotels, restaurants and party stores - our Legislature will probably hand you a tax rebate. (Seriously, just ask the Hollywood set. We toss 'em away like candy).

As for Obama and John McCain, keep assaulting us with ads 24/7. Media companies are doing slightly better than Lehman Brothers and your assistance is greatly appreciated.

But the thing is, you'll be taking another girl home on election night. It's looking more like Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia or even New Hampshire with her anorexic four electoral votes will tip the scales for that magic 270.

We were the belle of the ball for the bungled primary in January and those crazy Dems couldn't decide how to pick delegates for months. The fact that so many candidates boycotted us made us far more fun to figure out than Florida.

So the likelihood that Michigan will again be front and center Nov. 4 is small. There's always a chance, of course. Who could have predicted the camp-worthy pregnant chad thing eight years ago? Elections are a whacky business and a lot can happen in five weeks.

There could be another terrorist attack on American soil, for one thing. The housing crisis could continue to cramp the markets even with a $700 billion bailout. Or Kwame Kilpatrick could punch out a cop naked while shouting, "Long live Barack Obama!"

Now if McCain conquers Michigan, he'll be in prime position to win the Electoral College unless Obama steals Ohio or Florida out from him. But if McCain wins our economically mutilated state that's been reliably blue since 1992, I'll bet it's Johnny in a rout. He'll take Wisconsin, Minnesota and possibly Pennsylvania and keep his vulnerable western states.

Obama's turnout model of young and black voters will be declared a dismal failure and the Bradley effect will have reared its head.

That could certainly happen. But the McCain folks don't really think he'll bag the Mitten State, although they say publicly they have a "really good chance," as Mrs. Bush told the delegation at the RNC. Why not? They're happy to see Obama part with millions here. And they know it will be close, even though the Democrat leads in 11 of the last 13 post-convention polls.

But if McCain was truly serious about winning the Wolverine State, his veep would have been Mitt Romney, Bloomfield Hills' favorite son.

John Dunagan, President Bush's Michigan chair in '04, claims Palin will single-handedly flip the state red. His reasoning? We have 12 minor league hockey teams and the highest registration of snowmobiles in the country.

Um ... sure. Who can argue with empirical evidence like that?

Obama started at a disadvantage by not campaigning here for the primary. McCain has roots in Michigan dating back to his 2000 victory, although he lost badly this year to Romney. But Obama's ground game is far better - 40-plus offices, a massive voter registration effort and superior media operation.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm is Obama's biggest albatross here. In some polls, voters blame her more than Bush for the state's unparalleled economic woes. That could change with Wall Street's implosion, of course, but there's a reason she's not in the Democrat's stable of surrogates.

In the end, it comes down to the Detroit suburbs in vote-rich Oakland County, which has turned Democratic for the last two cycles. (Macomb was sooo '80s). Tensions in Detroit helped McCain post unusually high numbers here in a recent Time survey.

If Kwame was still the proud occupant of the Manoogian Mansion, I'd say that Michigan's traditional lack of racial transcendence, as Obama poetically puts it, would propel McCain to the White House. But Hizzoner's gone and he has no relationship with Obama to speak of.

I'm inclined to agree with former McCain adviser Mike Murphy, an old hand in John Engler's and Spence Abraham's campaigns, who thinks Oakland County is Obama country. Palin will appeal to the quirkily conservative Macomb crowd, but she's too much pitbull for Oakland's sunny soccer moms who aren't fond of guns but do like making their own uterine decisions.

Somewhere, Mitt Romney is shaking his head and plotting for 2012.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A party of whiners

Republicans have become wusses. Next thing you know, they'll want to cuddle.

I came of political age in the Newt Gingrich era, and the right-wingers I knew were bold and brash. They didn't talk about their feelings or make excuses. They swore on Adam Smith's soul that the world would be a better place with lower taxes, less regulation and a Deringer in every home.

Frankly, they were a lot more fun to hang out with that the liberals who screeched that calling grown women "girls" was a hate crime and believed the notorious Antioch College edict requiring students to ask permission before engaging in each new act of love ("May I bite your navel?") was sound public policy Congress should consider.

So I never thought I'd see that day when the GOP would become the poster child for Affirmative Action and political correctness.

What a letdown.

As Wall Street collapses into free-fall, violence amps up in Afghanistan and gas shoots up north of $4 again, whiny conservatives are carrying on about cosmetics.

If you have a pulse and occasionally click on cable news, you know that Barack Obama used the shopworn political phrase, "lipstick on a pig," last week.

Former acting Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift shrieked Sexism, noting that because GOP veep pick Sarah Palin talks about slathering on lipstick, she must be the porker in question.

"Often times, you're responsible for your words even if they're misconstrued," sniffed Ms. Swift, who ironically was broomed by the GOP establishment to make way for Mitt Romney, whom I understand is male.

It was as if I was transported back in time to my too-serious, abstractly academic women's studies classes and our insufferable debates over whether the word "history" (get it, "history"?) was misogynistic. That was the point at which the resident Republican would sanely chime in with an, "Oh, please!"

But the humorless, hypersensitive train barreled on after "Saturday Night Live" skewered both Palin and Hillary Clinton. Fired Hewlett-Packard CEO and John McCain adviser Carly Fiorina panned Tina Fey's dead-on impression of the Alaska guv ("I can see Russia from my house!") as (what else?) Sexist.

In another ironic twist, the feisty Fiorina got the hook Wednesday after she declared Palin (and McCain, because she is not Sexist) didn't have the gonads to head a major corporation. But she hastily added they could run the good old U.S. of A. (What everyone seems too polite to say is that Carly couldn't run a company either, though she was rewarded with a $21 million golden parachute for trying).

Palin herself hasn't cried Sexism, since she avoids the evil elite media's meanie questions like the plague. Instead, she allows others to wallow in victim feminism for her.

Since when do Republicans, especially those who proudly compare themselves to pitbulls, dodge a fight, especially with weenies in the press?

Meanwhile, every conservative in America, down to uber-reactionary U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg of Tipton (who I believe is still undecided on women's suffrage), is repeating the talking points that Palin is supremely qualified because she has "executive experience."

Folks, let's just take a time-out for a second.

Can you really say that someone who was mayor of a town of 6,700 and governor for 20 months of a state with 670,000 souls (.02 percent of the U.S. population) should be a heart attack away from taking over as leader of the free world? Don't you think the VP should know the Bush Doctrine or have an elementary grasp of the financial markets?

Let's call this what it is: Affirmative Action run amok, shunting expertise or even basic competence in favor a focus-grouped new face who plays well on tee-vee. I know of no other politician who has so breathtakingly blown an interview as Palin did on ABC and survived. Obama would have been laughed off the national stage.

Don't Palinistas feel a wee bit silly attacking Charles Gibson as Sexist for doing his job? Don't they ever tire of defending St. Sarah because McCain chose her and the Maverick is infallible?

Joe Lieberman, McCain's almost veep, gave a rather Freudian answer when initially asked if Palin was qualified to be president.

"Well, let's assume the best," he laughed nervously. "John's in great shape."

The truth is, the GOP is a party in the throes of a full-blown identity crisis, forced to disown its once beloved and now wildly unpopular President Bush and his disastrous economic and foreign policy agendas. Gone is the swagger, the supreme confidence of the Contract with America signatories, replaced by defensive, desperate thought police bleating about the unfairness of it all.

They sound like ... Democrats.

Maybe right-wingers should admit that their merciless (and amusing) ridiculing of Barackstar, who parted the Rocky Mountains for a crowd of 84,000 adoring disciples, was jealousy, plain and simple.

"The presidential election isn't a popularity contest!" they'd dourly declare.

But as soon as superfine, superstar Sarah glided on stage, they suddenly had a reason to turn out in droves and scream, "Drill, baby, drill!"

Not that there would be any double entrendre there. That, my friends, would be Sexist.

Friday, September 12, 2008

My dear John (McCain) letter

This is just to say that you lost my vote over the last few weeks and Barack Obama won it.

Sen. McCain, I know I'm just a simple single mom, but I do live in Michigan, ground zero in the Electoral College battle.

This wasn't an easy choice. I was with you when only five folks showed up to your town hall meetings in New Hampshire last summer as you stood up for a compromise on immigration. I cheered when you told Mitten Staters that those cushy auto jobs ain't a-comin' back before you tanked in our primary.

And I defended you against the loony left's bizarre assaults on your military service. You are, indeed, an American hero, and one of mine.

But your attack-happy, outrage-driven campaign - which is inexplicably run by the slimeballs who slandered you on behalf of George W. Bush in 2000 - is beneath you. You cannot blame the bombastic ads and barrage of smears on wily subordinates; you are the captain of this ship and you refuse to turn it around.

And as you have seen fit to appease the far right more and more each day, down to your extremist VP pick, I'm struggling to see you as the man on white horseback who's come to save the day. You seem like you only want to win - at any cost.

"This campaign isn't about issues," your campaign manager scoffed last week. Well, I think that insults the American people. And it insults me as a voter.

Because I'd like you to know that I will be voting for Barack Obama on the issues. And the economy is No. 1 for my family. I like that Obama's comprehensive economic plan is rooted in conservative ideas on tax cuts, which need to be broad-based. You don't have many ideas beyond extending the narrow Bush tax cuts and calling your opponent a tax-hiker.

I'm sure the few making over $250,000 approve, but even you knew those cuts would be fiscally disastrous, which is why you voted against them. Our country can't sustain this kind of lopsided tax code, not while the middle class is losing net income for the first time in decades, the gap between rich and poor is growing and the Iraq war drains $10 billion from taxpayers every month.

And speaking of the war, like the vast majority of Americans, I want to see it end. Here's my compromise to you: Declare victory and get out. I have no reason to think that Obama and his stable of bipartisan foreign policy advisers will go about this in a hasty manner akin to how Bush got us into this mess.

But Sen. McCain, you are even further out there than the president, who sees the need for a timetable after more than five years of morass. Violence is down now, hallelujah. But our military is broken, with some soldiers doing seven tours of duty in Iraq. The surge cannot be sustained. Nor do we have the manpower to truly fight al-Qaida in Afghanistan or Pakistan, much less start to tangle with Iran or Russia.

Your bellicose foreign policy is not the reasoned realpolitik of President Bush the Elder; it will bankrupt our budget and make us more vulnerable to terrorism. No one knows this better than our enemies.

And I appreciate Obama's willingness to include insurance companies, seniors groups and doctors into reforming health care, which is ridiculously inefficient and expensive. Your hands-off approach won't help the Big Three or small business being sunk by off-the-charts expenses. You're unwilling to even help uninsured children by reauthorizing the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

I know the new conventional wisdom is that we need to change the country by going with the GOP, which has been in charge for most of the last glorious war-ravaged decade that's culminating in economic devastation.

And I know that because I, too, have reproduced like Sarah Palin and people care more about my mug shot that what I write in this column, that I am automatically obligated to vote for your ticket.

But I'm just an average gal from Michigan who plans to vote my conscience.

Our country has been at war in Iraq since my daughter was six months old and I'm tired of having to explain death to her. Before the Bush presidency, I paid $1 a gallon for gas in Iowa, and I know as well as you do that drilling won't bring the price down one dime. What I don't know is how I'll scrape up $300,000 to send her to the University of Michigan in 12 years.

Now you're telling me that you're the maverick again, although you're certainly not on the biggest issues of the day. You have little to offer me and millions of Americans in terms of real policy change. What you can provide is a compelling life story and a superstar running mate.

Well, Sen. McCain, you warned us all not to vote on style and slogans over substance.

That's why I'm voting for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin: McCain's version of 'Trust me'

For years, Republicans have foamed at the mouth about Michigan's blonde bombshell governor, slamming her as woefully inexperienced and working in her "Dating Game" past whenever possible.

Now I've often shared their critiques of Jennifer Granholm in terms of policy and management style and I have it on pretty good authority that her senior staff despises my column. But that kind of patronizing tripe ignores her Harvard law degree (with honors), four years as attorney general, four years as a federal prosecutor and almost six years as governor.

Our governor has an almost unmatched intellect and is the state's most spellbinding speaker. Republicans will privately admit they wish they had anyone on their roster who could rival her. Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, shakes in his boots around her to this day.

So when John McCain made his utterly ridiculous pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat away from his presidency, I found it fascinating how Granholm's hecklers (a bunch of middle-aged white guys, natch) suddenly turned into raving feminists.

There was a lot of happy talk about breaking the glass ceiling from boys who oppose the Equal Pay Act.

"(Palin) puts the voice of women on the center stage of American politics," declared state Sen. Cameron Brown, R-Fawn River Township, which should come as news to the 18 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton.

Of course Clinton has everything to do with McCain's impulsive, insulting choice that former McCain aide Mike Murphy trashed, sighing, "The greatness of McCain is no cynicism, and this is cynical." Evidently, Mighty Mac thinks we broads are so hard up to punch a ballot for someone with ovaries that we'll take just anyone, like spinsters over 40.

We're supposed to fall for a candidate who has to play up her eight years as the mayor of a town of 6,715 - where the Associated Press devastatingly remarked the "biggest civic worry is whether there will be enough snow for the Iditarod dog-mushing race" - and her time on the PTA to round out her resume.

Palin has spent almost two years in the governor's mansion. To put that in perspective, she leads the third least populated state with fewer folks than the 7th Congressional District.

No wonder she's elicited a collective groan from Alaska newspapers and many colleagues about her inexperience and incuriosity.

No matter. Her sculpted cheekbones and naughty high-heeled boots inspire a quivering Rush Limbaugh to declare her "a babe."

Point granted. But the simple fact is that if Palin were a bleeding-heart Democrat, there would be only two words to describe the nod: Affirmative Action.

It is a slap in the face to dedicated GOP Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, just to name a few. Palin's foreign policy credentials are so thin, having only traveled to three countries, that first lady-in-waiting Cindy McCain tried to pump her up by pointing out that Alaska is close to Russia.

Oh, dear Lord.

Yet somehow Republicans manage to tout Palin's massive "executive experience" with a straight face, while still blasting Barack Obama's eight years as a leader in the state Legislature in one of the biggest states in the country and almost four years in the U.S. Senate, chairman of a Foreign Relations subcommittee.

Oh, but don't even think of questioning St. Sarah's credentials. She is a Mom, as U.S. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, noted in a statement - yes, with a capital "M." Um, OK, but does the GOP really want to play the parental fitness card when her 17-year-old is knocked up by a dude who looks like a bad boy reject from "The Hills"?

So if you dare ask about her ethics scandals, relationship with indicted U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and readiness to be commander-in-chief on day one, be warned: You are Sexist. Even though when Hillary complained about her coverage in the primary, Sarah dismissed it as "whining."

It was a bewildered Palin who whimpered to CNBC a month ago, "I wish someone would tell me what the VP does."

But on Wednesday at the Republican National Convention, they replaced her with a new and improved Stepford Wife model to spew venom at that un-American Obama who looks down on the bitter folk.

Palin conveniently forgot to mention her extremist positions, like being anti-evolution, anti-abortion for victims of rape and incest and even against protecting polar bears from extinction. Maybe that's because most of us wouldn't view her as the mom down the street, but another out-of-touch fundamentalist windbag.

But what makes me saddest about this whole sorry affair is that it reveals an utter lack of judgment by McCain, whom I deeply admire. He calculated he needed to appease the base and try to capture the Clintonites by choosing someone he'd only interviewed once a few hours before offering her the job.

His entire campaign is built around us trusting him to do the right thing - even though most Americans disagree with him on most issues, from Iraq to the economy.

Sorry, John, I'm finding that hard to do these days.