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Monday, January 25, 2016

Mom Reviews the Political Scene

Leelanau County, Michigan, is not the place it used to be.

There are fewer children in the county and fewer schools than were here a century ago, while at the same time there is a larger (and growing) population of older people in comfortable financial circumstances. Ironically, other than in the building trades, the rising number of retired “transplants” has not resulted in a matching increase of opportunities for full-time, year-round employment. It’s possible now, after all, to live in a specific geographic area almost anywhere in the world without being forced to support the local economy. Also, many officially “fulltime” retired residents spend several months a year traveling or in second homes elsewhere.

There have been other changes, as has been true in the United States at large.

Leelanau County these days has a different kind of Republican party from what was here even thirty years ago, and the local change mirrors that of the present Republican party across the United States. The county always had a conservative flavor, but old-time Republicans represented a wide spectrum of views. Recall that Governor Milliken was a Republican. Someone with Milliken’s moderate views could never even be nominated by the Republican Party these days, in Michigan or anywhere else in the country.

The current Leelanau County Board of Commissioners is a microcosm of broader American politics, with all the gridlock, hostility, and rejection of “working together” – at least on the part of the Republican commissioners -- implied by the comparison. I do not lay the blame on one party with any kind of partisan glee. Look through the glass sides of the fishbowl. Watch the fish. See what they do, and listen to what they say.

Party politics used to be close to irrelevant at the village, township, even the county level, and that was a good thing. Local politics was about getting things done, not about party allegiance. We are seeing the death throes of those good old ways.

Until quite recently, composition of the board was four Republicans and three Democrats. Then one of the Republicans stepped down. Known as “the swing vote” on the board, that member had earned the ire of many of her Republican constituents for whom bipartisanship is anathema. She occasionally voted “with” Democrats! Clearly, she was a traitor and a turncoat! There were efforts within her party to lead her to the light, but she tired of the wrangling and resigned rather than cave in to orthodoxy and right-wing political correctness.

From all appearances, there are only two “principles” at work today in the ideology of the Republican party. One is that whatever or whomever Democrats are for, Republicans must be against. This principle is not limited to matters of fiscal responsibility: even a measure that would cost nothing must be opposed by Republicans if brought forth by a Democrat. And a candidate with lifelong Republican credentials, should he or she stoop to bipartisanship on that or any other measure, must be drummed out of office and purged from the Party.

The other principle, the primary principle, the one that is the reason that adherence to other is demanded, is that government should not do anything – other than, of course, make war and police borders. But nothing else! And even that border policing, like policing in general, like schools, like prisons, would be done better, most Republicans are coming to believe, by private enterprise. Government is always the problem, never the solution!

One Republican member of the county board is pleased with the current 3:3 deadlock because it ensures that the board will be unable to do anything.

Stop and think about this for a moment. The phrase “do-nothing government” used to be harsh criticism. Today, from hard line Republicans, it is the highest praise. The right wing aspires to the establishment of do-nothing government.

A naive question may arise: If you think government is evil, why would you want to be part of government? Sadly, the question is easily answered: If the do-nothings were to give up control, government might once again be empowered to act! Hark back to an irony from the days of the Vietnam conflict: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”  Do-nothings must at all costs keep control of the paralyzed “village” (government) in order to ensure its power will not revive.

Can county and national politics be enjoyed simply as a clown show, as some suggest? Should we expect it to be and accept it as nothing but “sound and fury, signifying nothing”?

Our country has long proclaimed itself the leader of the free world. We promote our political system as an example to other countries, to peoples around the globe. Look what we can do! You could do it, too! That has been the lesson of our history, from 1776 onward.

What example, what lessons, do we hold forth to the world today? You, too, can make lethal weapons! You, too, can make war! You, too, can elect “leaders” determined to let nothing be done to improve your lives, and you can sell off government functions to the highest for-profit bidders! This is democracy, the best in the world!

Is it, really? Is this the best we can do?