FRAMESHOP:FEAR AND ANGER IN MICHIGAN

As GM Chief Executive steps down, the depth of economic crisis can be heard in the voice of Michigan's governor.

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 03/30/2009

As the economic crisis reaches the end of the early rounds, all eyes turn to Detroit--knocked to its knees by the credit crunch last November.  The news of the day: if GM wants more help getting back on its feet from Washington, there must be changes at the top.  Thus, 30-year car industry executive, Rick Wagoner, is stepping down. 

One question:  If asking Rick Wagoner to leave is good for GM---and by extension, good for the country--why is there so much fear in Gov. Granholm's (D-MI) voice? 

Why?  Fear and anger, that's why.  Fear and anger are rising in Michigan: Fear that things are about to get much, much worse than they already are; anger that the federal government is strong arming the Mitten State just a short while after opening up America's coffers to Wall Street with no strings attached.  New York gets what it wants, when it wants it from Washington, Michigan gets slapped in the face. The fat cats on Wall Street caused this problem, they sank the economy, and they got paid off by a robber-baron president as he scuttled out of office and tossed the keys to the new guy. Executives in Detroit get tarred and feathered and escorted to the door.

Fearful, angry arguments are never subtle, never accurate, but always hotter than molten steel.  Fear and anger reduces politics down to the simplest of all logic:  they did this to us, and they will pay for it.

Fear and anger are rising everywhere else, too, but in Michigan they are heating up at a pace that must have made a restful night's sleep a thing of the past for the beleaguered governor.   In an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, the tremble in Jennifer Granholm's voice is apparent:

The governor is no doubt exhausted, but there is more than sleep in her voice. Granholm was not really speaking to Matt Lauer when she called Wagoner a 'sacrificial lamb.' She was speaking to the millions of Michiganders who woke up this morning fearful for the future of their families, and angry at Washington for pushing around a state that has fallen on hard times.

The Obama administration must think--really think--or the fear and anger could explode into something much hotter. 

We walked up to this ledge before, 75 years ago.

In Studs Terkel's prophetic masterpiece Hard Times, psychiatrist Dr. David J. Rossman remembered those days:

Big business in 1930 and later in '32 came hat in hand, begging Roosevelt.  They have never gotten over their humiliation, and they have never forgiven him for having the wits to do something about it

The "humiliation" of GM began long ago.  It had nothing to do with the Obama administration, everything to do with a unforgiving market that turned its nose at what GM had to offer after decades of gobbling it up.  When GM fell to its knees last November and came hat in hand to the Bush administration, the people of Michigan blame their humiliation on fickle consumers and on Washington.  With hat in hand yet again and Rick Wagoner cast aside, the anger is focusing more and more on Washington alone.

Fear and anger are rising in Michigan and everywhere else. This morning, there must be more than one governor worried that Michigan could be the place where flint finally meets steel.

In the 30s, we are told, people never let their anger overtake them. They blamed themselves more than they blamed others.  Can the same be said today with Rush Limbaugh's broadcast bandwidth and accusations far larger and more toxic than Father Coughlin's ever were?  Will anger subside again as it did in those hard times? 

In all likelihood, Jennifer Granholm does not think it will, which means Obama's auto industry plan is about far more than restructuring. The half-life of hope has come and gone in Michigan.  What the White House, GM and Chrysler do this week--and the next six weeks--could be the moment students study 100 years from now.  This was where the 2009 recovery worked or, god forbid, this is where it failed.

In other words: What's good for Michigan is good for the country.

© Jeffrey Feldman 2009, Frameshop

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