As I sat in front of the TV on Friday night, getting ready to watch the Tigers game, I couldn’t help but think about how history repeats itself. Sports commentators were throwing the word “destiny” around like a well-used baseball, and it wasn’t hard to see why – not only was the Tigers’ 1968 World Series victory won against the Cardinals, but the Tigers had been down three games to one just as they were on Friday night. Because the Tigers had come back to win everything in 1968, I was confident that I was about to watch them do the same thing in 2006.
More so than any other sport, a baseball team becomes a symbol for its home city and a palpable reflection of its cultural context. With this in mind, I began ruminating on other similarities between today and the year the Tigers won the World Series against the Cardinals.
From Prague, to Paris, to RFK and MLK assassinations, 1968 was a year that rocked the world and shook everyone’s social principles to the core, especially those associated with the Left. Upheaval seemed rampant. In Detroit, however, 1968 was a year of healing from past turmoil. Many at the time commented that the Tigers’ World Series victory helped soothe some of the leftover tension felt from the riots in the previous year. 1968 was also the last year that George Romney served as Michigan’s governor.
A comparison between Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Romney offers many fun historical coincidences. Both were born outside the United States and were educated out west before coming to Michigan. Both Romney, an unwavering Mormon, and Granholm, a pro-choice Catholic, had to overcome the political difficulties that resulted from their religious affiliations. Granholm, like Romney, was opposed to a foreign war that was quickly revealing itself to be without purpose and the result of gross miscalculation.
Both governors also worried about foreign competition in the automotive industry, although the difference in degree might be laughable today. A 1959 Time magazine cover story about Romney raised the concern that smaller foreign cars had boosted imports from less than 1 percent of the market to 8 percent. The story dubs him “The Dinosaur Hunter” because as head of the American Motors Corporation, Romney wanted to do away with the large, overly chromed and finned American cars that dominated our highways. Way back in 1959, Romney asked, “Who wants to have a gas-guzzling dinosaur in his garage? . Think of the gas bills!” Sound familiar?
But most importantly, Romney and Granholm occupy similar spaces on the political spectrum. True, Romney was a Republican and Granholm a Democrat, but both are fiscally conservative yet socially progressive – a mix that sometimes carries the label Rockefeller Republican. However, such politicians are not easily pigeonholed and often straddle normal party lines. Both Romney – once a speechwriter for a Democratic senator – and Granholm exemplify this trait. Upon first becoming a citizen, Granholm worked for the independent presidential campaign of John Anderson, a self-described Rockefeller Republican who had a Democratic running mate.
I am not implying that Romney is the model Granholm should try to emulate, but merely that Romney and Granholm display a political ideology that Michigan needs at the moment. Michigan’s economy is necessarily the most important issue in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Even staunch leftists like myself have to admit that Michigan’s current economic crisis necessitates a governor sympathetic to business owners, but this does not have to come at the expense of compassionate social policies.
Neither gubernatorial candidate has offered a satisfactory explanation of how they are going fix our economy, but the dialogue has distracted voters from seeing the extent of Dick DeVos’s social conservatism. I worry that even if Devos is able to retool Michigan’s economy, he will leave the old-style manufacturing workers to the scrap heap. As the Detroit Free Press aptly put it in its endorsement of Granholm for governor, Michigan must balance “between building a new economic model and helping the thousands of people hurt in the crumbling of the old one.”
But 1968 and today are different; this year’s Tigers obviously didn’t win the World Series. Back then the economy was strong, yet Detroit’s national image had taken a major blow due to the ’67 riots. Today we are in an economic crisis, yet recent events like the Super Bowl and the Tigers’ season have ameliorated the nation’s perception of Detroit. History is full of conflicting narratives, especially in our state with its stark political, racial and economic disparities. Michigan, perhaps more than any other state, is a place of contrast. This is exactly why it will take a balanced and well-rounded leader like Jennifer Granholm to get us back to the World Series.
Sam Butler can be reached at email@example.com.