Screw Sarah Palin, let’s talk about Michigan! I talk about Michigan a lot, actually, because that’s where I’m from, and, as an American, the one thing you can count on being asked in the UK is where in the US you are from. So I have spent a good portion of my time in England trying to explain what and where this mysterious entity called ‘Michigan’ is. Usually this involves saying things like, ‘It’s the one that looks like a mitten’ or ‘It’s near the middle, on top.’ (None of this helps, BTW–not even if you hold up your hand in a mitten shape, which anyone who went to grade school in Michigan will do involuntarily as soon as state geography is invoked.) And although I’m proud of Michigan in my own way, it’s not usually for its conventional virtues: I didn’t go the U of M, couldn’t care less about hockey, and am more interested in the barrens of Detroit than the beauties of the Upper Penninsula. (Look it up, Brits!)
But finally there is a good reason to be proud of mainstream Michigan: John McCain has given up on it. Michigan has gone blue (fittingly enough) since 1992, but it has a long Republican history as well, swinging for Republicans in the elections from 1972 through 1988. McCain thought he had a good chance there because of Michigan’s concentration of the sort white working class voters who caused problems for Obama in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, but in fact Michigan’s class politics seem to be working against McCain: the working-class is being hit hardest by the status of the economy, and Michigan has the nation’s highest annual average unemployment rate since 2006. It seems that the majority of Michigan voters have not bought the Republican line that the sort of economic deregulation supported by McCain has nothing to do with the current crises.
Obama’s reportedly double-digit lead over McCain in Michigan is especially heartening given the implicit race politics at play in the Republicans’ hope that ‘white working class voters’ could be swayed to McCain’s camp. The subtext here seems to be that white working class voters can be counted on to be especially reluctant to vote for a black man, particularly in a state where racial divisions are so prominent–a conception that took center stage in a recent ad that implicitly compared Obama to former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. In fact, I’ve often wondered myself if this would be the year that Michigan returned to the Republican camp, because I’ve lived there and I’ve got some sense of how racist it really is. That Michiganders haven’t been distracted from the damage Republican policies have done to the state gives me a bit of hope. Apparently some people still know which side their bread is buttered on!
And, in case I become too nostalgic, I can always remind myself that it is highly unlikely that anyone in my large extended family in Michigan will be among that 51% voting for Obama. If the polls stay the way they are, though, at least that won’t matter worth a damn.