L ast August, I stood in a packed Arbor Brewing Company as the comfortable environs of Ann Arbor unceremoniously collided with the rough and tumble world which surrounds our bustling hamlet. Forty-five-year-old Ann Arbor resident then U.S. Rep. Lynn Rivers had just conceded victory to Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) in her bid for the Democratic nomination for Michigan’s 15th Congressional District and the city’s politicos were in shock.
Although many had expected this outcome, the prospect of John Dingell, the man who had called agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms “jack-booted thugs,” serving as their representative was beyond comprehension. Thanks to the Republican-controlled state Legislature’s redrawing of Michigan’s congressional districts, their beloved bastion of social liberalism, progressivism, bohemianism and cosmopolitanism would now be identified with the uncouth Dingell. The endorsements of EMILY’s List, the Sierra Club and an unbelievable margin of victory in Ann Arbor, this city’s voters chose Rivers with a 4-to-1 majority, could do nothing to save Rivers from her fate.
The heterogeneous collection of University activists in their bright red “Rivers for Congress” T-shirts, doting yuppie couples with their children in tow and aged hippies milled about as this reality sunk in. Listening to those conversations it would be impossible to imagine Dingell as anything but a bestial ogre.
But this was the nation’s most uncompromising advocate of a single-payer universal health care system, the man who almost single-handedly passed the landmark Clear Air Act and who cherished the legacy of the New Deal more than any member of Congress. Despite his accomplishments and abilities, Ann Arbor resoundingly, practically unanimously, rejected Dingell for his social positions, most notably abortions and guns. With the exception of a few university towns consisting of fellow travelers, it would be impossible to find any locale where these divisive issues were not met with fiery conflict, but yawning consensus.
The first step to understanding our consensus is the recognition that the entire premise of “campus versus community” is hopelessly flawed. In the most rudimentary sense, Ann Arbor feeds off the University and vice versa. There is no place in the country where the transition from town to gown is as seamless as the intersection of North University Avenue and South State Street.
Over Spring Break, a friend from back East forced me to describe Ann Arbor. I was reduced to a stammering and clich