Howes: Seriousness takes a holiday in Lansing, Washington politics
Want a glimpse into what’s wrong with politics and why the likes of Donald Trump is leading the crowded Republican presidential field?
Look at GOP-controlled Lansing. The state Legislature adjourns, again, without producing a long-overdue package to repair Michigan’s crumbling roads and bridges — but not before its leaders get all exercised.
Not about their failure, again, to address a fundamental infrastructure problem. No, the push is on to censure or investigate or expel or do whatever to two tea party colleagues who are the poster children for Sanctimony Gone Wrong.
Seriously, and that’s the point. Legitimate and generally bipartisan policy questions with economic development implications go wanting, again, but summoning the zeal to nail Republican Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat is a top priority.
The two should have the sense to realize they’ve destroyed their nascent political careers and whatever credibility they ever had; momentarily turned the Legislature into a bigger circus than it usually is; and demonstrated, once again, that salaciousness trumps seriousness.
And serious people wonder why the self-promoting bombast of Trump, or the lefty righteous indignation of Bernie Sanders, are drawing bigger crowds than Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush combined? Take a look at government, where reality takes a vacation, the small stuff gets sweated and the big stuff too often gets ignored.
Because it’s hard. Because the other side wants to extract a political price for its cooperation (see the Michigan Dems angling to kill a prevailing wage repeal effort in exchange for a roads vote). Because the braying horde occupying the lunatic fringes, empowered by the Internet and social media, possesses disproportionate power it can wield indiscriminately, and it does.
It happens in Lansing, roads being the most recent example. Or when the chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, until recently a state lawmaker, admits that legislation funding a study of education outcomes was designed to exclude unqualified “hacks.”
In this particular case, he’s talking about East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group. The respected research firm is headed by a Republican whose team presumably cannot be trusted to reach the politically correct conclusion, but two out-of-state firms bidding for the work can. Seriously?
It happens in Washington, routinely: immigration logjams; the botched launch of the Affordable Care Act exchanges; arbitrary enforcement of existing law; an $18 trillion-and-rising national debt; myriad scandals and screw-ups — all of it and so much more overshadowed by politically correct minutiae.
If many of these folks were running corporations, or divisions in them, they would be out of a job. Customers would flee. Brand equity would collapse. Investors whose capital undergirds the enterprise would demand change, and would punish the executive and directors who failed to deliver it.
Into this morass strides Trump, prescribing simple solutions (Build a Wall) to an obvious problem (illegal immigration) whose continuation politically benefits the opposition. Into this schlumps Sanders, peddling an economic message on inequality grounded in the fact that median incomes declined in the Obama years even as equity market-fueled wealth soared for those at the top.
The veins of frustration they’re tapping are real, whatever your political worldview. They’re also products of an inwardly focused political system whose operators too often are more interested in retaining tactical advantage than courting the risks of compromise.
Among the results: one of the slowest post-recession growth rates in several generations; a deepening cynicism, grounded in reality, about the competence of government; a political class that either compromises newcomers or excommunicates those who refuse to play the game.
It’s depressing and revealing all at the same time, this unmistakable trend in politics of boring substance, process and compromise succumbing to the sexy power of celebrity, sweeping generalizations, partisan hectoring and inattention that passes for leadership.
Or not. There are a lot of smart, capable pols out there; you may know one or two. But the Zeitgeist surrounding them sinks to a lowest common denominator fueling the frustration that feeds the rhetoric of Trump, Sanders and the people at their rallies.
They’re not creating reality. They’re reflecting it, which should be the biggest caution of all.