Commentary: Escaping today’s news

Jul 19, 2012

Yesterday, the story of the day was the shocking revelation that the Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, Jase Bolger, had conspired with a party-switching colleague to try and perpetrate election fraud. Roy Schmidt, the Democrat-turned-Republican from Grand Rapids, tried to use campaign funds to pay a part-time student to put his name on the ballot.

Incredibly, this doesn’t seem to have been illegal. But everyone except possibly those involved acknowledge that it was a huge ethical violation. Initially, I thought it might lead to the resignations of Schmidt from the legislature, and of Bolger as the leader.

But now it seems that may not happen. The Speaker is taking pains to minimize his role. While the text messages obtained by the Kent County prosecutor seem to indicate Bolger knew exactly what was going on, they don’t directly show him urging Schmidt to pay the man off or get him to lie about his residency.

Yesterday, legislative Republicans rallied to their Speaker’s defense. As for Schmidt, they mostly ignored him as much as possible. They clearly now see him as an embarrassment and a certain loser in November, and hope to ignore him till he goes away.

You might think this would be a huge story, but people seem to be paying attention to it in only two places, Grand Rapids and Lansing. They were, however, paying more attention than usual yesterday to the news in densely populated Southeast Michigan.

Not, however, to the latest economic insanity in Detroit, where the city council continues to attempt to sabotage the efforts being made to avoid going into bankruptcy.

Nor were many paying attention to the discouraging news that unemployment had gotten slightly worse. No, what people were talking about was the latest development in a murder story, involving the discovery of new evidence. Specifically, a human hair found in a car that has been linked to hairs found on two victims. The discovery, and controversy about how evidence should be handled, has dominated the headlines in the Detroit area for days and has the prosecutors in Michigan’s two largest counties openly feuding.

What is a trifle odd about all this is that the murders happened more than thirty-five years ago. This was the infamous Oakland County child killer case, in which four young children were abducted, held for days, and then left dead by the sides of various roads.

Those were creepy and haunting murders. The discovery of the hair is interesting, but doesn’t exactly solve the case. It doesn’t belong to the man who owned the car. He is in prison and isn’t talking. Most experts think the killer or killers died years ago.

That doesn’t mean this case isn’t fascinating. It would be wonderful to solve this crime. But I wonder whether we devote so much energy to things like this because our current problems are so huge and complex that we have no idea what to do or how to do it.

This may be human nature, but it may also be a lack of leadership. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Franklin Roosevelt said long ago, adding that “together, we cannot fail.”

I wish there was someone to make us feel that way today.   

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst.  Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.