Commentary: The problem McCotter left behind

Jul 10, 2012

Political circles across the state remain stunned by the very public self-destruction of former Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, from the white-collar Wayne County suburb of Livonia.

Yet it seems to me that while many people know the basic facts of his decline and fall, most don’t understand the true consequences of what he’s done. I’ll get to that in a moment.

But first consider this. A year ago, McCotter was a man with an essentially safe seat in Congress who had launched a long-shot campaign for President.

Today, he is a man who is unemployed, whose political future seems non-existent, and who has alienated, angered, and disgusted many members of his own Republican party.

What’s more, he managed to do that without the merest hint of any financial, sexual, or ethical scandal.

In case you’ve been preoccupied with something silly like making a living, let me briefly review what you might call the low lights of McCotter’s recent career. Last year, when he launched his quixotic presidential campaign, it’s hard to think that even he really believed he had much of a chance at the nomination.

But there’s an old saying in politics that you run once to get noticed and the second time to get elected. My guess is that he thought he would draw some national notice as the only Republican candidate who played in a rock and roll band.

The fact is that McCotter can quote Mick Jagger or Bob Dylan as readily as Ronald Reagan. But voters tuned him out. Last summer, in one huge Iowa straw poll, he got a humiliating mere thirty-five votes out of seventeen thousand cast.

His presidential campaign soon ended, and he seemed to totally lose focus. By his own account, he spent many hours in his garage, chain-smoking and writing a pilot for a proposed lowbrow TV show with McCotter himself as the star, and which featured jokes about sex, race and body functions. Then, when it was time to submit the required thousand signatures to qualify for the primary ballot for reelection to Congress, most of his were disqualified.

Elections officials said some looked like they’d been photocopied from some previous campaign, which is not only invalid, but illegal. After briefly considering a write-in campaign, McCotter said he would retire. Then, last Friday, he suddenly just quit.

Some responded by saying good riddance. But in fact, that was by far the worst thing McCotter has done. He broke a contract he made with the voters when he asked them for another term.

What his resignation did was leave more than 700,000 people without representation in the House for six months. Congressmen do more than cast votes, by the way. They look after problems constituents have with things like lost Social Security checks and help them in other ways.

Governor Snyder could conceivably call special elections to fill the seat, but that would take time and be very expensive – and the district’s boundaries will change considerably in January.

Bill Ballenger, who has been watching Michigan politics for almost half a century, called McCotter’s resignation “the ultimate self-centered, egotistical thing to do.”

If he ever chooses to attempt a comeback, the way he ended his first act might be something voters ought to keep in mind.

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.