Richard Reeves

America the Passive

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Democrats should be building statues of former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, or at least giving away copies of her new book, "A Governor's Story."

It's not that her eight years in Lansing were a roaring success. After all, the state was falling apart in the center of a national disaster, manufacturing jobs disappearing or moving overseas. But now that she is a "former," teaching at her alma mater, the University of California, she has the freedom to talk about what she learned and say a number of things that need to be heard by Americans who can't seem to get in their heads the idea that the world has changed. And that America has to change, too.

As she told Monica Davey of The New York Times last week, after years of cutting taxes and spending, alienating many of her Democratic supporters, especially union members:

"Everything that is hitting the country hit Michigan first.

"We tried all of those prescriptions, too. We did everything that people would want us to do, and yet it didn't work. Laissez-faire, passivity, tax cuts, hands-off does not work. And, really, that's the lesson from this laboratory of democracy which is Michigan."

In fact, at a time when unemployment topped 14 percent in her state, the only thing that made the number a little better (11 percent) was the federal bailout of the automobile companies and stimulus funds directed to new-era companies.

"The question is for the nation: Is there something that can happen now to prevent it from happening to the whole country and having a prolonged recession in the way that Michigan did?" Granholm added. "I think there are ways to stop it, but it can only happen with a partnership with the federal government, because individual states simply do not have the tools to compete against China or the globe."

Brian Dickerson, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, summarized the book this way:

"She cares about her constituents, but she can't tell them the truth; they can't handle the truth!

"The subtitle of this book should be: What every Michigander should know about the new globalized economy, and why no politician, including Jennifer Granholm, has the stomach to tell them."

So what would she have us do now that she is a former governor who says she will never run for office again? Her answers (solutions?) include having the federal government act as a true national government. She does not believe states have the tools to compete with each other and the world.

"Why do Americans says they hate an active government," she writes, "then get mad when government does nothing while their jobs disappear?"

"Tax rates play a minor role in business location decisions," she argues. "For the kinds of advanced-manufacturing, high-tech businesses we were recruiting, talent is what matters along with quality of life, culture and the sheer 'coolness' factor of host cities."

She bemoans the fact that talented students from other countries grab an American education and then head back home. But still, she argues that federal action, particularly on education, and most particularly on community colleges, is the core of the answer. What we need is a talented, job-ready work force.

"Business leaders," she writes, "will tell you that everything today is about speed to market. They just can't afford to wait."

And neither can the rest of us. The Republican idea that the market will take care of things as long as taxes on corporations and millionaires are lowered has been tried and failed.

What Granholm is arguing, now that she doesn't have to face the electorate, is that Americans have to invest in themselves -- and the only way to do that is through strong federal government action.

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