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Dear Free Press: That Water Situation In Flint Is Partly Your Doing

Sometimes endorsements really do matter.
Dear Free Press: That Water Situation In Flint Is Partly Your Doing
Image from: AP

Dear Freep: I'll get right to it. I used to be such a fan. Remember how you used to be the blue-collar paper in Detroit and the News--that rag!--was the paper of the Republicans? Good times.

You were the morning paper and the News--that rag!--came out in the afternoon. We started our day with you and you never let us down. On those mornings when we got ready to slog to our jobs or to march in the picket lines or to scan the want ads for employment opportunities, you let us know you were with us. You were on our side. You dogged the Big Three and kept them honest, especially during labor negotiations, but you didn't kowtow to the union leaders, either. We trusted you.

Am I getting this right? It's the way I remember it. I loved your paper, from page one through the editorials and Op-Eds, through the style section, through the sports pages (I admit I rushed through those, but I've heard they were very good), through those whopping Want Ad sections (remember those?), and on to the back, where the cartoons lived. On Sundays your paper was as heavy as a catalog.

Then Reagan came along and brought the hated trickle-down with him. Almost overnight the unions became pariahs--selfish bastards!--and Michigan jobs raced as if on luge sleds to the south and overseas. The days of the high-wage blue-collar worker were over. Over time you lost your advertising base. Your formerly robust want-ad section dwindled down to a precious few pages, and you partnered with--it's hard to even say it--the dreaded Detroit News.

But you held on to your character, to your ethics, to your championing of the labor class. For a while.

I repeat all this so you'll understand how hard it is for me to say what I'm about to say:

When you endorsed Rick Snyder for governor the first time, you bought into an image of him that was phony from the start. You had to know he was not the innocuous "one tough nerd" he and his adorable kids made him out to be. You knew he was an untested businessman with no political background ("a Republican venture capitalist and former Gateway executive", you wrote), with nothing but promises for a bright Michigan future.


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You knew his opponent, Virg Bernero, was better for us and far more qualified to get us out of the recession sweeping the entire country. His successes as mayor of Lansing were public knowledge; his vociferous and loyal support for labor, voiced so often and so eloquently on Ed Schultz's show on MSNBC, was necessary in a climate where jobs were being sucked away by the tens of thousands every week, every day.

But you endorsed Snyder because you believed--all evidence to the contrary--he was a true independent.

When you endorsed him the second time, in 2014, you did it knowing--even admitting--you were twisting the screws. You had already written a scathing editorial in 2012, when Snyder went against the voters and declared Michigan (Michigan!) a right-to-work state, yet your endorsement barely scratched the surface on his "failure of leadership", as you called it then:

Snyder, the Republican incumbent, promised a pragmatic approach to the state's problems and delivered — except when he was caving to radical elements of the GOP-led Legislature or going back on his word about transparency.

You wrote this about his Democratic opponent, Mark Schauer:

Schauer says he'll shape state government according to the progressive values the Free Press Editorial Board believes are embedded in Michigan's DNA — expansion of civil rights, protections for workers, environmental stewardship, plus investment in schools, roads and the social safety net.

Mark Schauer would have been a fine choice and just what we needed as an antidote. An honest, hard-working pragmatist, he might have been just the person to help us calm down a raging Tea Party legislature. But we'll never know.

Now you want us to believe you're outraged by Governor Snyder's actions over the water poisoning in Flint--as if you couldn't have seen it coming. As if you couldn't have known that your endorsement, along with other equally powerful but misguided back-slaps, would be enough to give him permission to do whatever he and his handlers wanted.

You knew in 2014 that Snyder was aligned with ALEC, the Koch brothers, and the Mackinac Center--all well known Right Wing anti-government activists. You knew of the misery Snyder's hand-picked emergency managers were causing all across our state. And you had to know it was only a matter of time, with Snyder and the Republicans in control, before our Great Lakes state would face an environmental disaster.

Your bizarre editorial, dated October 8, 2015 and titled, "Flint Water Crisis: An Obscene Failure Of Government", only served to highlight your obscene failure in judgment. In it, you wrote:

This newspaper twice endorsed Snyder for governor, albeit with grave reservations. But because of the relative weakness of his opponents, the leadership he displayed in resolving Detroit’s protracted financial crisis and our hope that he would use his business acumen to ensure that government better served people, he narrowly won our endorsement.

Last year, in a detailed analysis of Snyder's record, this editorial board expressed our dissatisfaction about Snyder's first term: "The governor balanced the budget at the expense of cities and school districts. His disdain for politics is inappropriate in the state's chief politician; his deficiencies as a deal-maker have sometimes resulted in terrible consequences for Michiganders."

This, we wrote, was Snyder's most profound flaw: "He has got to see people, not sums, as the bottom line of the state balance sheet."

We wrote that he rarely exhibited strong, decisive leadership, that he must "grow into a more sure-footed, principled leader." That we were fearful of what Snyder's second term could hold.

To which I call bullshit. You endorsed a monster. Twice. And now you're busy trying to undo a tragedy that never had to happen. You want to be heroes? It's too late. The children of Flint have already been poisoned. You can't undo that. You can't undo your endorsements. You had your chance before the elections in 2010 and 2014 and you blew it.

You blew it.

(Crossposted at Ramona's Voices)

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