Finley: A look back at 40 years in Detroit

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Forty years ago last week I walked through the doors of The Detroit News for the first time, an awestruck college kid who had never before worn a suit and tie to work.

Finley says he used to fret about what former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick could have been before he “went astray. But now I think he’s fulfilled his destiny.”

I couldn’t have known that first day that I’d still be here four decades later, but neither during all those years could I ever think of a good reason to leave a great newspaper in a great news town.

Covering Detroit has to be the best beat in journalism. Crime, corruption, corporate upheaval — it’s all right here, and I’ve been fortunate to have a front row seat.

For the past 16 years, I’ve been writing this column as part of my duties as editorial page editor. Recently I looked back through those pieces with the goal of pulling out a selection for a book.

The result is “Little Red Hen, A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice.” Here are some excerpts that I hope you enjoy, for a second time.

Follow the Little Red Hen, Oct. 19, 2008

If America really is structurally broken, as we’ve been warned with authority from the campaign trail, then it’s not because our fundamental principles have failed us, but because we’ve strayed so far from them.

I’m not talking about the values defined by Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton and crew; though Lord knows we could certainly use a good refresher course in those.

The principles I miss are the ones voiced so eloquently by the Little Red Hen, the Three Pigs and the Little Engine That Could.

Generations of Americans were raised on these fables and in the process were taught lessons that would be considered harsh on “Sesame Street.” But they reinforced who we were.

From the feisty Little Red Hen we learned the rewards of hard work. We also learned to savor those rewards guilt-free and to understand that what we create belongs to us. ...

Those house-building pigs drove home the reality that bad choices carry bad consequences. Build your house out of sticks or straw, and your hams will be steaming on the Wicked Wolf’s table.

Build it out of bricks, and you can safely rest them in a La-Z-Boy in front of your big screen TV.

The Little Engine is my favorite. He huffed and puffed up that hill on his own steam, and kept stubbornly going even when he wasn’t sure he could make it to the top. ...

In a couple of weeks, a large number of voters, likely even a majority, will go to the polls to choose a political Pied Piper to lead them to an America where everyone shares and hugs and plays patty cake in equal-size houses.

I’d rather follow that cranky Red Hen.

Kilpatrick Fulfills his Destiny, Oct. 11, 2013

We’ll never know the full extent to which (former Detroit Mayor Kwame) Kilpatrick’s preoccupation with his own enrichment contributed to the city’s ongoing disaster. Much of that harm is unquantifiable.

Kilpatrick came into office at age 32 and brought with him his peers, who were at the time some of the brightest young people in the city. Certainly they were elevated before they were ready, but they had a chance to mature into a generation of leaders that truly could have saved Detroit.

Instead, many of them ended up as convicts, like their boss. Some went to prison. Others are untouchable because of the Kilpatrick taint. Their potential was wasted by a man who wasted his own.

I used to fret about what Kilpatrick could have been, thinking of him as a brilliant talent who simply went astray. But now I think he’s fulfilled his destiny.

Kilpatrick told the court, “I’m ready to go to prison.” Turns out, he was born ready.

“We need another Ronald Reagan,” Finley writes. The former president was “a genuine Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Presidential Politics Leaves out the Little Guy, Sept. 9, 2012

I’ve been on a political walk-about the past two weeks, first to Tampa for the Republican National Convention, and then on to Charlotte for the Democratic version of the same. ...

Between the two conventions, I visited my Kentucky hometown, populated by the type of people the convention orators professed to care for so deeply — mothers worried about their children’s futures, workers doing more for less, small business owners struggling to survive in a broken economy.

In all of these places, I met people who feel isolated by the rigid ideological circles Republicans and Democrats have drawn around their parties. ... I wondered if the politicians who streaked through the convention halls trailed by a comet’s tail of lackeys, the ones who spoke of these folks so reverently from the platform, ever sat down next to them in their homes.

If they did, they might be surprised, as I was, to discover that despite the dysfunction in our halls of legislation, despite the stagnation in Washington, despite the polarization, they still believe in America.

They still believe in the ballot box, and that by voting this one in or that one out they can make a difference.

They haven’t given up on the political process. And their faith merits something better than billion-dollar presidential campaigns aimed at exploiting their fears and dividing them further.

“Little Red Hen, A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice”

We Love Detroit Despite its Flaws, June 26, 2011

William Faulkner wrote of the South, you don’t love it because, you love it despite.

Doesn’t that also capture our relationship with Detroit?

We love this city despite all the things that should be right by now, but are still wrong. We love it despite its stubborn self destruction, its frustrating habit of missing opportunities, its abusive outbursts, its broken promises.

We love Detroit despite the relentless blight and deterioration that makes it often seem as if decline and revival are running neck-and-neck, with no way to pick a winner.

We love it even when loving it requires us to squint so we don’t see the blemishes. We love it even when it can’t quite love itself.

It’s a wearying kind of love, hardened by heartbreak and conditioned to disappointment. ...

Polish one piece of this jewel and it makes you eager to shine another. In a landscape so devastated, everything you do to makes a noticeable difference.

So maybe we love Detroit because it needs us so much.

Or maybe it’s enough to just say there’s a lid for every pot, and we’re Detroit’s.

We Need Another Reagan, Feb. 6, 2011

I was still a young man when Ronald Reagan became president, just starting a career and a family.

My first mortgage carried an interest rate north of 11 percent, and after years of unchecked inflation, my paycheck from what should have been a good job barely covered the bills.

It wasn’t the financial struggle that bothered me; it was the message from Washington that I’d better get used to this new reality, that America’s good times were over for good, and that the country’s diminished status demanded Americans live smaller, accept less.

And then along came Reagan, a genuine Yankee Doodle Dandy, ready to jerk the nation up by its bootstraps and get it back to fulfilling its destiny. There was a little cornpone in him, but when he talked of America as a shining city on the hill, I could see its lights. ...

We need another Ronald Reagan. We’ll always need another Ronald Reagan. I hope the United States in the 21st century is still a place that can spawn his kind of American.

Rage Against the Dying of the Light (Bulb), December 9, 2010

Somewhere in Wayne County there’s an ACO hardware store without a single incandescent light bulb in stock. They’re all on a shelf in my basement.

The idea of soon having no illumination choice other than those twisty light bulbs has left me a little bit nuts.

So now part of my Saturday routine is making the rounds of various stores and loading my pickup with packages of incandescent bulbs.

It’s an obsession I bet I share with others who dread the day a year from now when the old-fashioned bulbs become extinct by federal fiat, and all that’s left are the smug compact fluorescent lights.

Congress has decided that everyone should use the new bulbs because they are more energy efficient, though I doubt anyone factored the extra energy used to ship them from China, where they’re being made instead of the Midwestern plants that produced the old bulbs. ...

We’re told that if we give up some of our individual freedom to buy what we want, drive what we want, smoke and eat what we want, the world will be a better place. ...

(So) we get crazy-looking light bulbs shoved into our sockets. ... Well not my sockets. If I can hoard enough bulbs to make sure I die by the glow of an incandescent light, I’ll consider it a small blow for freedom.

If you feel the same way, you’d better get to ACO before I do.

Nolan Finley’s “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice,” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.

“Little Red Hen, a Collection of Columns by Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is published by Dunlap Goddard and is available through Amazon, Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.