The Great – Blue – Lakes

Just a quick note about the election, now that Missouri’s vote has come in, and we have the entire electoral map in place…

I’m a much bigger fan of maps that show the true purpleness of the country (scroll down to the bottom). But at the electoral college level, it’s still great to see what I consider my home – the Great Lakes region – entirely blue.

Image from the New York Times.

Do NOT run from the liberal label!

Barack Obama is starting to concern me. He seems to be running from “liberal” label.

I’ve written before about how critical I think it is that liberals and progressives rescue the term “liberal”. It’s a first step toward re-legitimizing the entire liberal worldview.

I didn’t see the debate between Obama and Hillary Clinton last night, but from a transcript, apparently this exchange took place:

WILLIAMS: We are back from Cleveland State University. We continue with our debate.

The question beginning this segment is for you, Senator Obama.

The National Journal rates your voting record as more liberal than that of Ted Kennedy.

In a general election, going up against a Republican Party, looking for converts, Republicans, independents, how can you run with a more liberal voting record than Ted Kennedy?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, let’s take a look at what the National Journal rated us on.

It turned out that Senator Clinton and I had differences on two votes. The first was on an immigration issue, where the question was whether guest workers could come here, work for two years, go back for a year, and then come back and work for another two years, which meant essentially that you were going to have illegal immigrants for a year, because they wouldn’t go back, and I thought it was bad policy.

The second — and this, I think, is telling in terms of how silly these ratings are — I supported an office of public integrity, an independent office that would be able to monitor ethics investigations in the Senate, because I thought it was important for the public to know that if there were any ethical violations in the Senate, that they weren’t being investigated by the Senators themselves, but there was somebody independent who would do it.

This is something that I’ve tried to push as part of my ethics package.

OBAMA: It was rejected. And according to the National Journal, that position is a liberal position.

Now, I don’t think that’s a liberal position. I think there are a lot of Republicans and a lot of Independents who would like to make sure that ethic investigations are not conducted by the people who are potentially being investigated. So the categories don’t make sense.

And part of the reason I think a lot of people have been puzzled, why is it that Senator Obama’s campaign, the supposed liberal, is attracting more Independent votes than any other candidate in the Democratic primary, and Republican votes as well, and then people are scratching their head? It’s because people don’t want to go back to those old categories of what’s liberal and what’s conservative.

They want to see who is making sense, who’s fighting for them, who’s going to go after the special interests, who is going to champion the issues of health care and making college affordable, and making sure that we have a foreign policy that makes sense? That’s what I’ve been doing, and that’s why, you know, the proof is in the pudding. We’ve been attracting more Independent and Republican support than anybody else, and that’s why every poll shows that right now I beat John McCain in a match-up in the general election.

Okay, I’ve heard bad things about the National Journal rankings, so there’s no problem in criticizing those. But why not just stand up to the blatant demonization of the word “liberal”? Fight the premise of the entire question instead of quibbling about details! Or how about fight the premise, and then basically attach all of those issues (universal health care, sensible foreign policy) to the word “liberal”?!

I think Obama has done a better job of deflecting this kind of before, as with the recent flap over his patriotism. Maybe his game was just off. Or maybe he decided – for whatever reason – the the “heartland” of Ohio wasn’t the place to take a stand. Or maybe more ground work needs to be done to legitimate the word “liberal” before a national contender can use the label. I can see the rationale for that argument, even if I don’t like it.

But I also want to say that I’m starting to see a worrisome pattern, if this report from MSNBC is accurate:

AUSTIN, Texas — In the shadow of the state capitol that provided the United States with one of the most conservative presidents in recent history, Obama last night railed against the charge that being “liberal” was a bad thing.

“Oh, he’s liberal,” he said. “He’s liberal. Let me tell you something. There’s nothing liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics that is common sense. There’s nothing liberal about wanting to make sure [our soldiers] are treated properly when they come home.”

Continuing on his riff: “There’s nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has healthcare, but we are spending more on healthcare in this country than any other advanced country. We got more uninsured. There’s nothing liberal about saying that doesn’t make sense, and we should so something smarter with our health care system. Don’t let them run that okie doke on you!”

Umm…huh? So, he’s definitely not liberal. I guess. Maybe I’ve just had the okie doke run on me. Sheesh. Look at this from the opposite perspective. I don’t exactly see John McCain running from the conservative label, even though his own party hates him and the conservative movement’s policies have proven disastrous. Chris Bowers at and Eric Alterman at Media Matters have also weighed in on this.

It appears we have a long way to go in creating cultural space for liberalism in our political discourse.

On a more hopeful tone for the long-term prospects of liberalism, I found this article at the Nation on transformational vs. transactional politics to be a great read.

On the Great Lakes beat

Check out this great post over at on the changing political complexion of Illinois.

Great Lakes state of mind

Another wrap-up of Great Lakes regional issues and news…

Great Lakes liberalism

E.J. Dionne has a nice column about how Senators Clinton and Obama seem to following in the footsteps of the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. We could all follow his example.

War profiteering comes to the Great Lakes

Kudos to the “Chicago Tribune”.

Make way for two-tier labor

So Detroit’s automakers will finally get their lower labor costs. Okay, now it’s time for them to put up or shut up. I covered the auto industry for seven years. It’s the knee-jerk response of most auto journalists, pundits, and analysts to blame the unions for the precarious state of the U.S. auto industry. It’s true that the U.S. automakers have higher labor costs. However, it’s also true that managers at the automakers had to agree to every contract that raised those costs. It’s also true that no one in the union actually tells the design and engineering folks at U.S. automakers to make boring and uncompetitive cars. That one rests at the feet of management, and most of the financial trouble of the U.S. automakers is their decades long inability to design vehicles that people actually want to buy in comparison to their overseas competitors. So now they have lower labor costs. Will we actually start seeing competitive automobiles?

Speaking of Michigan

The Great Lakes state has the basket case economy of the region. Here’s one proposal to make it strong again. During those seven years covering the auto industry, I also followed the larger economy in Michigan. These proposals have been floating around for years. Will Michigan find a way to turn it around? I’m not so sure. The Northeast used to be the manufacturing capital of the nation, but what are big chunks of it known for now? The leaves turning color – a portrait of Michigan’s future if it doesn’t stop talking and get moving.

And as for our industrial heritage…

We’re going to be living with it for a long time, thanks to industrial waste, even if we don’t turn our manufacturing economy around.

And lastly, the Great Lakes are going wild

Look out for the cats.

That is all.

Great Lakes all over the place

Much of my writing so far in this blog has been broad scope – meaning national. But I hope to, over time, focus more on the Great Lakes region and its progressive values and community.

Today is a good day to start. I imagine it’s mostly because of the Wisconsin primary today and the upcoming Ohio primary, but today I found all kinds of Great Lakes news to point out.

First off, I’ll start with this. It’s a basic AP articles on the Wisconsin race, but the second half provides some good information on the people who make up the Democratic electorate.

This next “Chicago Sun-Times” article gives a good history of the progressive history of Wisconsin, but it also points out a familiar divide in Great Lakes states – rural “red” areas with urban “blue” areas. I’ve lived in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, and this article could be written about all three states. I imagine Indiana would play out much the same way.

From “The Nation”, John Nichols has an interesting article on how trade issues play out in Wisconsin. The Great Lakes economy has taken it on the chin for years, and it looks like liberal-leaning, progressive voters want to reevaluate international trade deals. Personally I’m a supporter of fair trade more than free trade, but it’s also helpful to remember that autoworkers and farmers want people overseas to buy their automobiles and crops, so outright slamming of trade doesn’t necessarily make good sense. Also, just in case China is brought up as a source of cheap labor, it’s important to remember that when Electrolux chose to close plant in Michigan a few years ago, it moved the jobs to Mexico, not across an ocean. It’s also important to remember than there has been plenty of growth in auto jobs in recent decades, but it’s all taken place in southern states that are hostile to unions – again, not across an ocean.

Moving away from Wisconsin, the “Wall Street Journal” has a profile of working white male voters, and the impact they’ll have in Ohio. Again, this is an article that could apply to all of the Great Lakes states.

Here’s an article from the “Chicago Tribune” on the latest efforts by the Great Lakes states to manage their water resources. I’ve written before about how I’d like to see more unity among the people of the Great Lakes. They share a common history, common economy, and common values. Water has always been one of those unifying issues, but it can still be tough to get agreement.

One part of that common history I mentioned before is the legacy of the great industrialization of the Great Lakes region. Here’s a report from the Center for Public Integrity about a big federal study of environmental hotspots in the Great Lakes region that the Center says has been blocked from publication for months.

And lastly, more on history, here’s an interesting “Wall Street Journal” story about how high oil prices has people looking for oil again in western Pennsylvania. Usually when I focus on the Great Lakes, I mean Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. But you can easily throw in western PA. I can tell you from visiting there often as a kid and as an adult, that it’s more culturally and economically linked to the Great Lakes states than it is to the eastern seaboard. There’s a whole mountain range in between there, for crying out loud!

That’s all.

How about some Great Lakes pride?

Yesterday I talked about how California gets lots of attention in the national media – and certainly from itself. Much of this attention is based on its sheer scale. It is a very big state – geographically, population, economy, etc.

But I think it’s time the Great Lakes region got some attention.

You see, I’ve lived in the Great Lakes area all my life – Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. Many of my family and friends are still concentrated in this region. But I can tell you, I’ve been around the national media enough and read/seen enough of it to know that it really is considered “fly-over country”. In other words, it’s the place that people from the coasts merely pass over as they go about their Important Business. We’re just the Rust Belt. At best, we’re the Heartland, whatever that means.

Well, it’s time for some regional pride. I’ll turn to some statistics for help.

I’ve used what I believe is a conservative estimate of the Great Lakes region: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. I think those states are the most closely linked geographically, economically, and culturally. (The Census Bureau sees it this way, too.)

Let’s look at the numbers. Very much thanks primarily to the Northeast Midwest Institute website, by the way.

In terms of population:

The Great Lakes region 46,277,000
California 36,458,000

In terms of land area (square miles):

The Great Lakes region 301,479
California 163,707

In terms of Gross Domestic Product (millions of current $):

The Great Lakes region 1,908,048
California 1,727,355

That’s right. The Great Lakes region exceeds California in population and economic impact. But, you might argue, the Great Lakes region is so much bigger geographically. True. Okay, let’s add in Oregon and Washington for the entire West Coast, a natural division in my opinion (and again, the Census Bureau agrees):


The Great Lakes region 46,277,000
The West Coast 46,554,000

Land area (square miles):

The Great Lakes region 301,479
The West Coast 333,396

Gross State Product (millions of current $):

The Great Lakes region 1,908,048
The West Coast 2,172,187

That’s right. Even when the entire West Coast is included, the Great Lakes region still accounts for nearly the same number of people and close to the same size economy (88%), and that’s with fewer square miles (90%). Remember, too, that this is a narrow definition of the Great Lakes region. It could easily include, to my mind, Minnesota, western Pennsylvania, and western New York. Heck, throw in the Canadian province of Ontario if you want to.

It’s an accident of history that the states in the eastern half of the country are relatively small. Together, they have an enormous amount of impact. I think the Great Lakes states should work together to make sure that impact is understood and used for the benefit of its citizens and the country.