Commentary: Post-conventional wisdom

Aug 31, 2012

The Republican National Convention is over. The Democratic National Convention is about to begin. And unless something unexpected happens next week, my guess is that the world will little note nor long remember what anybody did at either gathering.

When Michigan native Mitt Romney finished his acceptance speech, a scene from the movie Braveheart flashed into my mind. The medieval Scottish hero William Wallace had just delivered a stirring speech which prevented his side’s ragged troops from deserting the battlefield. “Fine speech,” one of his friends says.  “Now what?” Wallace has a ready answer. “Just be yourselves."

Unfortunately, in today’s politics, that’s a good part of the problem. Michigan’s Republicans are on their way home now, and the Democrats will soon be on their way to North Carolina.

When they come back, both sides will go back to being themselves, which means the political equivalent of the sort of trench warfare that went on in World War One. Murderous fighting, with no final victory anywhere in sight.

We have become an incredibly polarized, contentious state and society.  Lansing is an especially good example. Once upon a time, groups seeking to amend the state constitution merely had to get enough signatures to get their amendment on the ballot.

Nowadays, however, that’s just the start. They fight over the wording on the petitions, both before and after signatures are collected. The Board of State Canvassers argue over whether to certify successful measures for the ballot. Not that it matters.

Regardless of how they vote, the losers sue and the courts -- make that the Michigan Supreme Court -- makes the ultimate decision. So far the Supremes have ordered two proposals on the ballot, and are wrestling with the fate of four more.

They have only a week to decide. Once they do, their decisions and they themselves are certain to be savaged by the losers.

There’s a cloud hanging over the legislature as well, at least at the House of Representatives. A one-person grand jury is now looking into the attempted election-rigging scandal cooked up by Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger and party-switching state representative Roy Schmidt.

I said attempted, not alleged, because nobody is denying that these men tried to rig Schmidt’s reelection; the only question is whether any laws were violated. The result could threaten control of the lower house, and potentially stop Governor Snyder’s programs.

What I’d like to think is that we are in for nine more weeks of campaigning, after which we can get back to trying to save our state’s economy. Well, we should be so lucky. Sadly, Mitt Romney said one thing in his acceptance speech last night that wasn’t true, even though I wish it were.

He said that Americans have always come together after elections. Well, sadly, they haven’t in recent years. The moment President Obama took office, Republicans proclaimed they wanted him to fail.

Years ago, in a gentler time. a young congressman referred to the other party as the enemy. He was corrected by the Speaker of the House. No, he was told, they weren’t the enemy.

They were the opposition. Let’s hope for a little more of that sentiment, however the election turns out.                                                  

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