Commentary: Where's the outrage?

May 10, 2012

To badly paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, history will little note nor long remember Bob Dole’s presidential campaign sixteen years ago. Dole was the Republican nominee against President Bill Clinton that year.

This was before the sex scandals came to light, and Clinton breezed to reelection. Bob Dole, an authentic war hero with a hilariously caustic sense of humor, ran a bumbling race that didn’t reflect that he was actually a quite capable man. 

But he had a slogan that didn’t help him much, but seems curiously appropriate for Michigan today. “Where’s the outrage?“ he used to say, after he enumerated a series of real or exaggerated Clinton  failings. “Where’s the outrage?’

Well, there wasn’t much. There was later, of course, when Monicagate came along, but that was too late for Bob Dole. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking of reviving his slogan and proposing it as Michigan’s state motto. Where is the outrage? I’m looking at a story from one of the two Detroit papers.

A couple in their sixties were asleep in their tidy little brick bungalow yesterday morning, when two intruders broke in. The homeowner shot both of them, killing one. He also shot his wife by accident. The cops eventually showed up, and carted the dead and injured away. The reaction from neighbors was sort of matter-of-fact, as if this was a crabgrass epidemic. What are you going to do? one man  shrugged. “It’s bad to say, but you got to protect yourself.” What he didn’t add, but clearly knew, is that Detroiters can’t count on their dwindling police force to show up in anything like a timely  fashion.

Well, there may be some hope for less than lethal force; the governor signed a law yesterday giving citizens the right to carry tasers in case they just want to temporarily incapacitate whomever wants to kill them. However, those gun owners interviewed on local TV seemed to be sticking to their guns. After all, we learned during the cold war that the most important thing was never allow your enemies to have more firepower.

Finally, when it comes to journalism, there’s a real “where’s the outrage” problem most of us hate to mention. In the old days, investigative reporters would work for months to expose some scandal. Once we did, heads would roll, people would resign, indictments would be issued.  Nowadays, newspapers use their dwindling resources to expose some scandal.

And too often, nothing much happens. For months, reporters have been detailing an incredible web of scandals in Wayne County, by far Michigan’s most populated county. Lower-ranking heads have rolled, criminal charges filed, and an unsavory network of cronyism revealed. If this were a private enterprise, Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano would have been fired many weeks ago.

But it’s not, and he shows not the slightest inclination to resign, or even show the merest flicker of shame. My guess is that he is hoping that after awhile we forget all about it.

And the saddest thing is that -- unless some sexual dimension to all this develops -- people just might forget. So, where’s the outrage? What I’m afraid is that we’ve become so used to corruption that it may have lost its power to shock. 

Which really would be the biggest outrage of all.

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.