Pretty much every major political campaign develops a certain weirdness of its own. Some more than others.
There was Howard Wolpe, who ran for governor of Michigan by talking a lot about South Africa. And now we have the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Gary Peters and Republican Terri Lynn Land. You might think that there was a modern-day state or national issue or two worth worrying about, like jobs or education or ISIS.
But forget all that. For the past couple days, the candidates have been squabbling over what in economic terms is ancient history. Specifically, the so-called bailout of the auto industry in 2008 and 2009, and whether Land would have supported it.
What makes this weirder is that one of the candidates is only arguing about it by proxy. Land doesn’t talk to reporters or interviewers and so far hasn’t consented to debate her rival.
Mostly, she, or someone in her campaign, just sends a spokeswoman out to represent her views, as if Land were, say, the Wizard of Oz. Until now, it has seemed clear that Land opposed the bailout, which was started, we sometimes forget, by President Bush.
Those who cover, work in, and analyze the auto industry will tell you that the bailout was absolutely essential to saving not only Chrysler and General Motors but probably Ford as well. Today, the automakers are all thriving. Washington got most of its money back.
The program was a tremendous success. Yet Mitt Romney opposed it, and till now, it seemed that Land did too. There are video clips of her saying she agreed with Romney and that GM and Chrysler should have borrowed money in the private sector instead.
Unfortunately, as anyone in finance can tell you, there was no private money available in those panicky days. Perhaps finally realizing that, her spokesperson, Heather Swift, said yesterday that regardless of what we thought we heard, quote, “Terri would have voted for any plan that saved the auto industry over no plan.”
Actually, the industry was saved by presidential action after it became clear that Congressional Republicans savagely opposed the bailout. Following that bit of revisionist history, Swift began attacking Peters for his support of a program that loaned money to foreign car manufacturers who have operations here. Actually, Peters wasn’t in Congress when the legislation in question was passed, and it was signed into law by a Republican president, but whatever.
What’s oddest about all this is that we essentially have a campaign where Gary Peters is running against not the GOP nominee, but Heather Swift. However, I don’t think Swift is either a registered Michigan voter or legally old enough to be in the Senate.
Consider this: Whoever does win this race is going to replace Carl Levin, one of the most powerful figures in Washington. The last time I had questions about Levin’s position on something, his spokesperson asked if I could meet the senator for breakfast that weekend, and we talked for an hour.
Now the question is: Do we really want a U.S. senator who is unwilling or unable to explain her views to the press or in person?
That, rather than auto economics, may be the real issue here.
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.