It's weird out there this year.
I've been knocking doors for various campaigns since 1993, so I like to think I have a pretty good grasp on how folks react when somebody shows up at their door ready to discuss politics. For a lot of people, I'm the only politician from any office or party that they're going to get a chance to talk to, so I'm pretty used to getting an earful. That's not all bad. I try to listen to what folks have to say. I try to be mindful of it when we're looking at issues that come before council, and sometimes I hear of something important that hasn't yet come before us, but that we should pursue.
For the most part, folks are pretty reasonable. Some are happy to see you on their doorstep; some are unhappy; and most are doing something totally unrelated to politics and really just want to get back to whatever they were doing.
But more people than usual are mad this year.
Two years ago we had an election around the theme of "hope". This year's theme seems to be the old slogan from the movie Network: "I'm mad as Hell, and I'm not going to take it any more." Add in a healthy dose of economic malaise and the remake of "Hawaii Five-O" on TV, and it's beginning to feel a lot like 1978.
It's pretty easy to understand why folks are mad, especially in Michigan. I surely don't need to document the long decline of the domestic automobile industry and what that's done to this state. (Nor am I going to drone on about Wall Street, mortgage-backed derivatives, the collapse of real-estate values, the credit shortage, etc. Worry not, gentle reader, I'm sure I'll drone on about those things at some point this winter, so you've got that to look forward to.)
But I think there are also some reasons for optimism around here that aren't getting much attention. I thought I'd mention a few things that I'm going to try to bring with me during this final weekend of campaigning:
1) The auto industry is on the rebound -- The bailout of GM and Chrysler worked. Both companies are growing and repaying their debts. Ford was kept out of bankruptcy, and the automotive suppliers are starting to see their business improve.
This matters to us in Michigan.
Two years ago our neighbor was unemployed after having been laid off by two companies. Today she's working on the Chevy Volt out, and that's a car with a future. That story can be told by thousands of people in thousands of different ways as the auto companies begin to hire again.
2) We will not be as dependent on the auto industry in the future -- The Ford Wixom plant just a few miles from our village is being reborn as a green-technology park manufacturing batteries, turbines, and other renewable energy items. That means American money is being invested in American manufacturing instead of being sent to Saudi Arabia for oil. We will grow stronger as a nation when we invest more in ourselves than in Middle Eastern oil fields.
Michigan still has the infrastructure, the skilled workers, and the resources to be a hub of American manufacturing. We need to keep bringing projects here to build 21st Century technology, and I think we're going to do it.
3) Real-estate prices already collapsed -- We're fortunate in one way that we never had the big debt-fueled boom that some areas of the country experienced, but for all of us living in houses worth less than they were worth ten years ago, our drop was plenty big enough. But the silver lining is that we now have a lot of good, affordable housing. That's a pretty attractive deal for a lot of folks. I could go on about this point for a while, and might in a future post. The economy runs on cycles, and while I would never wish for a real-estate collapse, where we are now puts us in a great position to attract new residents and new investments.
4) The village has its fiscal house in order -- The top three points apply across all Michigan, really. But at the most local level, we put a lot of effort this Spring into making sure that the village is ready to ride out whatever remains of the financial storm of the past several years. It was very painful, but we did it, and we did it for the long run. Wolverine Lake is still a great place to live, and we now have a rock-solid foundation upon which to build and improve. We are going to make this village a better place to live. Most importantly we can do things to make this village a better place to live because we have our fiscal house in order.
So, yes, I understand that there's still a lot of anger and fear out there. Some of it's been whipped up by the media, but I think it would be a mistake to point the finger at those who exploit anger and fear without recognizing that there are some legitimate reasons for people to be angry and worried.
However, at some point we need to choose between fear and the future.
I choose the future. We are going to get out of this mess. We are going to get stronger. We will move forward.