Normally I go out to breakfast one weekend morning to the same middle-class place, where I talk to my two favorite waitresses (no, they don't call themselves servers at this place) about what's been going on in their lives. Every time I do, I can't help but think that most of the people running for office and most of the journalists covering them haven't a clue what their lives are like.
One is a divorced mom in her early 30s with two little girls, who lives with her own mother to help make ends meet. Gina recently had (relatively) minor surgery, but that meant she couldn't lift anything for two weeks, which meant a terrific loss of income. She and her friend Dee both think they are lucky to have this job, however. Before that, they worked midnights together for years in a Sterling Heights coney island.
That meant that Gina had to testify several times in criminal trials stemming from the customers' attempts to commit mayhem on each other.
Dee, who is a little older, has kids and a husband who works tool and die. One night a drunken patron threw a large glass sugar container at her head. That might have killed her if his aim had been a little better. The cops threw the guy out twice that night, but one of them said she better think twice about pressing assault charges; he was from a family that loves blood feuds. That didn't make Dee a cynic, it helped make her decide that someday she was going to become a state trooper.
Women like these are being, so far as I can tell, virtually ignored by everyone. They are not venture capitalists or snazzy lawyers.
Nor are they sick, dysfunctional creatures like Samantha Bachynski, the traveling companion of murderer Patrick Selepak, or the awful foster parents of Ricky Holland, people to whom the papers have given far, far too much ink.
Gina and Dee are typical of millions of Michiganders who are struggling to make ends meet and make their lives work, even as the domestic auto industry declines and the jobs dry up, many of them forever.
They are also smarter than many journalists I have met, at least about what matters to average people. I asked Dee about the election.
She has no idea which candidate scored points in the debates and regards the political ads she sees on TV as wallpaper. She thinks Jennifer Granholm hasn't done very much, and isn't all that impressed with her famous warmth and charm. But she thinks Dick DeVos is a rich guy who cares about other rich guys. ("Did he always have money? I thought so," she asked me.)
Dee finally has been accepted to the next class that trains state troopers; there hasn't been one for a while, because of budget limitations. (Her husband and she agree that the kids can go to latchkey after school for the 20 weeks she'll be getting trained in Lansing.) From what DeVos has been saying, she figures he'll immediately slash spending and the class may be canceled.
She gets it. The day before, I met someone else the candidates aren't talking much about. A fortysomething medical technician who drew my blood for some routine tests at a hospital on the east side of Detroit. (My rabies normally flares up around election time.) Her husband also works tool and die.
Last week, he was told he would have to take a 12 percent pay cut because the auto companies were giving them less business. "Did I think it would get better soon?" she asked me. No, I told her it would probably get worse.
Her son hated high school and had dropped out, and she was trying to get him to earn his GED and then was working on him to try to join the Army.
No, she didn't like the war. She would be worried sick if he ended up being sent to the meat grinder of Iraq. But what else, she asked me, could her son do?
She knows you can't get anywhere without an education, but he just doesn't like school. She wishes she could afford to get some more training so that she could be a higher class of technician at the hospital; maybe someday.
Dick DeVos knows about people like these pretty much the way I know about the moons of Jupiter; I read about them, some time ago, and once met an astronomer at a party. Jennifer Granholm can look them in the eye, ask their kids' names, and chatter compellingly about a program she has or wants to start.
Yet neither one of them really connects with these people, or has any idea who they are or how they live. Nor do they have a clue what to do to make Gina and Dee and the hospital workers' lives better, let alone how to connect with them.
DeVos isn't even pretending to try. All he wants to do is convince them that everything wrong is the governor's fault. Granholm would like to help them, as long as it doesn't involve risking any fragile political capital, or mentioning what every honest economist knows: The state needs to raise taxes.
The other day, some Democratic Party hack was quoted in the paper as saying he had "moved from optimistic to giddy," about their prospects in the midterm elections that are now less than two weeks away.
Most of the people I've just talked about will probably vote for the Democrats. But you know what? None of them are very optimistic, and the last time any of them were giddy was when they got laughing gas at the dentist. That is, when they could afford the dentist. There is a growing national mood that it is time to pound the Republicans' heads into the pavement. But that doesn't mean the average person loves the Democrats. They mostly don't.
Now, for the first time in a long while, it seems really possible that the Democrats will win both houses of Congress. If they do, or even if they win just the House of Representatives, they will have two years to convince the common person that they stand for something. That means that first they really have to stand for something education, health care and ending the war, for a start.
Then they have to find a way of cutting through the lies of the chucklehead in the White House and his emissaries of Mordor, and get harried working parents to understand that the Democrats are on their side.
Otherwise, they, and we, will be worse off than we are now.
Proof I am not monogamous: Last week several writers beat me up for what one called my "abusive" devotion to the Democratic Party. Well, it is true that Debbie Stabenow and I have had sex. (Just not with each other.) However, I am going to vote for Terri Lynn Land, the Republican, for secretary of state. Why? She has done a good, competent job, and is not an ideologue; she is an old-fashioned, fiscally conservative, Gerald Ford Republican, a useful breed back in the old days when others were spending like drunken sailors.
And, no, I have seen no evidence that she is part of the vast Diebold voting machine conspiracy. If this makes the comrades revoke my party card, so be it.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org