I noticed something familiar yesterday after I talked about a new investigative series in the Detroit Free Press on charter schools. What I said drew a fair amount of comment. Virtually none of the comments had to do with anything I said.
People mainly reacted based on opinions they already had about charter schools. Some of the comments weren’t even about schools at all, at least not directly.
One writer declared that “our leaders” want to pay executives a lot, screw over the workers and “choose to not believe in science and mathematics.” I’m not clear exactly what that has to do with charter school administration.
Another said that burglar alarm companies are really an outrage since our taxes pay for the police. Okay.
Finally, somebody who plainly didn’t read the charter school series said it was all dictated by the teachers’ union, and accused me of wanting “more government insight into all phases of our lives.”
Now these comments span the ideological spectrum, but they all have something in common. Something, that is, other than being essentially irrelevant.
The writers were using slogans as a substitute for thinking. Somebody unintentionally gave me a big compliment a few weeks ago. She said she couldn’t figure out whether I was a left-winger or a right-winger.
I told her that I felt more like a large flightless bird. In fact, I don’t think there is anything to be gained by giving ourselves labels and putting ourselves in little boxes.
Instead, we would all do better to challenge our own assumptions. Ten years ago, I went to a party three days after George W. Bush was reelected. A stunned woman told me she had never met anyone who had voted for Bush. Which meant she was as clueless in her own way as the climate change deniers she loved to ridicule.
What I’d like to do today is challenge everyone listening to think about one of two issues. If you think of yourself as a conservative, consider a new report the think tank “Michigan Future” just released about our neighbor to the west.
Minnesota has far higher tax rates than Michigan does. It has a state government that spends more and provides a better social safety net than Michigan does. Politically, the state is very blue.
Yet its economy is booming. Unemployment rates are far lower than ours. New jobs are being created and businesses moving there.
Now if you think of yourself as a liberal, ask yourself this. Did it really make sense for someone who was a clerk for the city of Detroit for 30 years to be able to retire on a full pension at age 52 and move to Florida? Does that make sense? Does it make sense to accept that we have hundreds of thousands of physically healthy adults who can manage to not take part in the labor force?
Nearly everyone agrees Michigan needs better roads, more and better jobs and a better educated workforce. What if we just tried dropping our blinders and finding common-sense ways to make those things happen? That may sound crazy…But, hey, it just might be worth a try.
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.