I believe in the great and terrible potential of speech. I believe in the power of politics to mimic this potential. Political voices have led us to rail against civil injustice, fight the Nazis and fly to the moon. At their worst, political voices have justified civil war, riots and isolationism.
I grew up in Flint, Michigan in the shrinking shadow of the automotive industry. My father worked for a Big Three automaker, and retired on the benefits promised throughout his long career. These are less than what was initially guaranteed, and ever in jeopardy of further reduction. I am aware that, as he and my mother begin to receive social security, the thought of losing his health care insurance worries them deeply. I have never heard my father complain about this.
He believes in stoicism, my father. He says that communication is overrated.
I believe he may be right.
Still, I inherited my mother’s long-windedness and – from an unknown source – faith in the political use of words to inspire, challenge, and change the world. I believe I can justifiably take issue with the political language that has encouraged feckless economic promises and poor long-term planning. My father, apprenticed at age nineteen, had the good sense to worry about the profligate spending he witnessed in his industry. I have to imagine that he has difficulty understanding how business leaders remained blind to something an assembly-worker saw: that Michigan was being positioned to take the brunt of a terrible fiscal fall from grace. Rather than cushioning that fall with commitments to education, innovation, prudent spending, and a refusal to be strong-armed by the labor unions; the automotive industry reveled in its fat.
Nevertheless, in the Midwest we don’t believe in crying over spilt milk. The fact is our manufacturing-based economy needs more than my bellyaching and political cheerleading to see brighter days ahead. While I am told that the U.S. economy is strong, I see that the Midwest is rapidly leaking jobs. I believe politicians do workers a great disservice with bland promises of support that don’t acknowledge the painful facts. The truth is, and I believe politicians know this, people will get their jobs back only if our economy evolves with the real demands of the world. And I believe the world isn’t demanding many Hummers.
It’s election season again, and I want to believe this matters. Workers deserve to hear the ugly truth: our current economy is tied to the rusty tailgate of an obsolete model. The world has changed dramatically, and we have some serious catching-up to do. We can succeed in this new economic model, but we’ll have to accept challenge and learn new skills. We need leaders committed to the education, training and research required in our changing jobs.
Most importantly, we deserve a government with the tenacity to lead us not with the words we want to hear, but with the words that take us where we need to be.
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