Gathered inside a room that sheltered its inhabitants from the inclement weather resulting from Superstorm Sandy, several experienced political veterans discussed the political climate of the state and nation in front of a group of students and Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president for government relations.
The four panelists — Joe Schwarz, a Ford School lecturer and a former Michigan congressman, Deborah Cherry, a former Michigan Democratic Senator, Rich Robinson, the executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network and Public Policy Prof. John Chamberlin — discussed term limits, dysfunctional government systems, the proposed bridge in Detroit and political journalism.
Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio’s political commentator, moderated the discussion.
Schwarz said American political divisions are a pressing problem for the country.
“The polarization in the parties is amazing, even to someone who has been around as long as I have been around, it’s amazing,” Schwarz said. “People’s loyalties are to party, not to state, or to country.”
Schwarz recalled meetings between members of the Republican conference while he was a congressman that he said demonstrated a primary emphasis on ideology rather that “pragmatic views.” He added that term limits in the state legislature and large financial contributions to political campaigns have made Congress increasingly dysfunctional.
Lessenberry joked that term limits for politicians are comparable to term limits for brain surgeons, because they can’t stay around long enough to get good at their job.
Chamberlin said there is more false information in politics than ever before in response to a student’s question about a recent ad from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign, which claims that Jeep plans to move thousands of jobs to China.
“The level of disinformation, if you get a half-truth these days in the commercial, you declare victory,” Chamberlin said. “They’re just depressing in their inability to make a voter more informed about what’s going on.”
The panelists expressed opposition to Proposal 6, which would require approval from the public prior to the construction of any international crossings. The ballot proposal is designed to prohibit the construction of a second bridge to Canada that will be financed by the Canadian government, and is supported by billionaire Matty Morourn who owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
“I have never in my life seen anything like this, or the conduct of an actor like this, or the conduct of a legislature like this,” Lessenberry said.
In response to a question from Wilbanks about the role of media in politics, Robinson said he’s “exhausted with the coverage,” adding that topics related to climate change have been noticeably absent from mainstream reporting.
Cherry added media coverage of politics has become much less balanced and often strongly favors Democratic opinions.
Schwarz called the change in content produced by the media “tragic.”
“Nobody is looking over the legislature’s shoulder, no one is being critical in an informed sort of the way … it’s unfortunate, it’s the way of the world right now and I wish it weren’t,” he said.