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Jack Lessenberry from Michigan Radio

Daily interviews and essays about politics and current events with newspaper columnist Jack Lessenberry.

Copyright: Michigan Radio

You Couldn't Make This Up

Fri, 15 Jul 2016 10:19:57 -0400

Remember the Onion, that crazy satirical newspaper people couldn't get enough of in the 1990s? It's still around, but these days, I think real life has gotten better than art at being utterly absurd. Certainly that was the case in Michigan yesterday. I mean, can you imagine a better Onion headline than "Governor whose aides poisoned children appoints oil industry lobbyist to head environmental agency?" The subhead would add "New MDEQ chief defended guilty company during world's worst oil spill." The only trouble with what I just wrote is that it is all true. Late Thursday, word came that Rick Snyder had appointed Heidi Grether to head the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She has been working in obscurity as deputy director for the often-overlooked Michigan Agency for Energy for some time. But she spent most of her career with BP, where she was a lobbyist for that company during the infamous Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010, when their offshore drilling rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the governor, she "helped head up the company's response to the Deepwater Horizon spill," and was eventually promoted as a result. The lawsuits stemming from that are expected to go on for 20 years, and BP could end up paying $20 billion in penalties. Less than two years ago, a federal judge ruled BP was reckless and guilty of gross negligence and willful misconduct under the Clean Water Act. This was the incident and this was the company that Heidi Grether spent years defending. And now our governor wants her to head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the same agency which tried to cover up the governor's appointees' poisoning of the children of Flint. The headline on the Detroit Free Press editorial today says it all: "Like a Sick Joke." If you asked a political consultant about this, they'd say "the optics are terrible." Well, of course they are, but the worst is that it is very clear Snyder doesn't care what this looks like, or what the public thinks. His political career is over. Thanks to Flint, nobody will ever elect or appoint him to anything again. You could tell he knew that when he hired criminal and civil defense lawyers to defend him at taxpayer expense. What this administration cares about is what the big business community thinks. Late last year, after Snyder was finally forced to fire former MDEQ head Dan Wyant, his chief of staff incredibly thought that was a mistake. "Keep in mind that finding a replacement who has the trust of the business community will be very difficult," Dennis Muchmore told Snyder. Never mind regaining the trust of the parents of the thousands of poisoned children. It is very telling that neither Snyder nor his new appointee was willing to talk to the press. However, Snyder, who isn't exactly known for his sense of humor, did issue a statement that was unintentionally hilarious. "Her experience at delivering good customer service from a large organization will be of great value," he said. I'll just bet the people of Flint and the people in Southfield who are fighting attempts to build an oil well in the middle of their suburban city can hardly wait. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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Tax Dollars for Private Schools

Thu, 14 Jul 2016 10:19:20 -0400

Governor Rick Snyder did something sensible Wednesday – he asked the Michigan Supreme Court for an opinion as to whether it is legal under the Michigan Constitution for the state to use taxpayer dollars to provide aid to private schools. In a sense, this is actually putting the cart before the horse, in that Snyder signed am education budget last month that includes a two and a half million dollar appropriation for private schools. At the time, he was urged to use his line-item veto to prevent that from happening, but he declined, saying he believed this was legal. But it became clear almost immediately that the state was going to face a massive lawsuit over whether any aid to such schools is constitutional, and the governor clearly feels it's better to know early. The Supreme Court doesn't have to issue an opinion on this, by the way, just because the governor is asking for one. He's made similar requests in the past, and sometimes they've done so and other times, as in the case of Right to Work, they've declined. This situation, however, is especially interesting – and in a sense, is a case of déjà vu all over again. To me, it seems clear that any use of taxpayer dollars for any private school for any purpose violates the state constitution. And here's why. Back in 1970, private schools in Michigan were mainly religious schools, most of them Roman Catholic. Michigan was a considerably richer state back then, and many politicians were in favor of helping them – and the parents who paid their tuition. The legislature passed a law doing just that. The governor then happily signed it. Public Act 100 provided direct financial aid to these schools, with the stipulation that the money could only be used for instruction in non-religious subjects. However, all hell broke loose, no pun intended. Angry opponents soon organized, and got a constitutional amendment on the ballot to outlaw any state aid of any kind to any, quote "private, denominational or other private, pre-elementary or secondary school." Voters passed it by a landslide that fall. That seemed to settle that – until now. Governor Snyder contends the bill he signed doesn't violate that constitutional amendment because it doesn't provide any money for educational expenses. All it is supposed to be used for is costs associated with state-mandated requirements like employee background checks and fire and safety code compliance. Opponents, however, say this is a meaningless distinction, because the private schools can then use the money this frees up for whatever they want to, including religious instruction. To me, the language in the 1970 amendment is about as clear as it could be. It says, quote, "no payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public money or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student or the employment of any person at any such private school or any location or institution where instruction is offered." I wonder if anyone asked those who passed this bill, "what part of no don't you understand?" However, I don't get to say what the law means. Michigan's highest court does. Hopefully, in this case, they soon will give us an answer.. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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Democrats choose inexperienced youngsters to replace Rep. Plawecki

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 13:22:31 -0400

I never met Julie Plawecki, the state representative from Dearborn Heights who died unexpectedly last month while hiking in Oregon. By all accounts, she was a hard-working legislator and someone who virtually everyone liked and respected. And she had the sort of background I'd like to see more lawmakers have. Too many are lawyers or real estate agents. Plawecki, who was 54, had worked in medical technology, but spent most of her life as an elementary and high school math and science teacher. When a tragedy like this happens late in an election year, it's up to district party officials to designate a legislative candidate to replace the one who died. In this case, the precinct delegates selected a panel of three people to do that in secret. Well, Representative Plawecki's funeral was scarcely over when her 22-year-old daughter Lauren announced she wanted her mother's job. I have to admit, I rolled my eyes. Lauren Plawecki seems to be an accomplished young woman. She just graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in art history, and worked at a museum in Florence, Italy. That's all wonderful, but doesn't say a lot about her ability to understand and represent the concerns and needs of about 85,000 people. The legislature isn't supposed to be like European nobility, where when the duchess dies, her daughter automatically becomes duchess. But I needn't have worried. The panel of three didn't choose Lauren. They chose someone even younger, a young man named Jewell Jones, who is just 21 and still in college at the U of M Dearborn. Matter of fact, he wasn't even around for the selection – he is off in the army reserves. He's clearly ambitious, however; last year, right after he finished being a teenager, he became the youngest member of the Inkster city council in history. Being from Inkster is why, by the way, he was chosen over a group of other candidates. Inkster is just a tiny part of the district, but for some reason I can't fathom, almost all the 58 precinct delegates eligible to select a panel to choose somebody were from ... Inkster. And while there will be a November election, Jewell Jones is all but certain to be win regardless of what happens between now and then. That's because this has been gerrymandered to be an entirely safe Democratic seat. Thanks to term limits, assuming he serves his allowed three terms, Jones will have maxed out and be forced to retire at age 27 . What a country. But Jones won't be the next legislator from this district. That will be ... Lauren Plawecki. See, they will also have both a primary and a general election to fill the last couple months of her mama's seat, and they agreed to let Lauren run for that. Now, the odds are that neither of these young people will make any kind of major contribution, especially if Republicans continue to control the legislature. But they will make $71,685 a year, which ought to help them pay down their student loans. See, who said the legislature wasn't good for anything. On a serious note, this isn't how things are supposed to work. But we've so trivialized and marginalized politics and government I'm not the least bit surprised. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan

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Persecuting the Transgendered

Tue, 12 Jul 2016 08:59:05 -0400

Once upon a time there was a Republican politician who took office at a time when the nation was bitterly divided over social issues. He knew this was not the way things should be. "We are not enemies, but friends," he pleaded with his people. He told them he was optimistic that America would do better, and that our hearts would be touched by "the better angels of our nature." By now I suspect you've figured out the speaker was Abraham Lincoln. Or at least that it wasn't Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. The attorney general does not appear to be interested in uniting people but dividing them, by appealing to bigotry and their fears. Three years ago he wasted millions of the state's money in a futile attempt to deny two lesbian nurses the right to adopt several special needs children they had been caring for. His tactics were so ham-handed that the federal judge disqualified some of his witnesses, and delivered a verdict that was a humiliating rebuke to Schuette. Subsequently, the nation's highest court found that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right, and Michigan had to reimburse nearly two million dollars in attorney fees for the nurses. Now Schuette has turned to persecuting transgendered students. Late last week, he announced he was joining a lawsuit seeking to overturn President Obama's decision to direct schools to allow any student to use the restroom and locker room that matches that particular student's gender identity. The attorney general did not say, of course, that he was appealing to fears that boys would dress up and invade girls' lavatories to stare at and possibly molest them. Nor did he say that he thought transgender people were perverts. He didn't have to. Instead, in typical Orwellian language, he said exactly the opposite of what he really meant. Schuette said he was seeking to "protect the dignity and privacy of all Michigan students", and said the decision to allow transgender children to protect their own dignity and privacy was "federal overreach." That's the kind of language segregationists used years ago to protest federal decisions that black people should have equal rights. What Schuette believes personally is impossible to know. What is known is that he wants the Republican nomination for governor in two years, and likely thinks bashing transgender people will help increase his appeal to social conservatives. This may be safer political ground than opposing same-sex marriage. But morally, it is wrong. Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee had the guts to call Schuette out on this, saying that what the lawsuit means to do is "exclude one sector of our population – transgender individuals – from federal protection." Noting that they are among the most persecuted people in society, Kildee correctly noted that the government was seeking "simply to protect them in the schools." Incidentally, an institute at the law school at UCLA has been studying whether allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice leads to more crimes by predators. Everything they've found so far indicates it does not – but that without this protection, it's those who are transgender who are at risk of assault. I don't know if the attorney general knows of this study. But based on everything I do know, I'd be surprised if he cared. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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It's the cameras that are new, not the police misconduct

Mon, 11 Jul 2016 10:54:37 -0400

Two days after the killings of five police officers in Dallas, there was an editorial in the Detroit News that began "The last thing we need in this country is a race war." Well, just about everybody who is sane would agree with that. But there are a lot of black people who could tell you that a race war has been going on for centuries. There's absolutely nothing new about the unjustified slaughter of black people by the cops. Here's a bit of historical trivia: When Coleman Young was first elected mayor of Detroit in 1973, the number of white and black voters were just about equal. But there was a lot of controversy over a program called STRESS, short for "Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets." This involved heavily armed police cruisers, and officers who some said were in the habit of blowing black men away with little or no provocation. John Nichols, the police chief who started STRESS, was Young's opponent in that election, and there were just enough white voters who were repelled by STRESS to give Detroit's first black mayor a narrow victory. What's new today is video cameras everywhere, including on police officers and their vehicles, and in the hands and smart phones of bystanders. So we have been seeing a number of cases in which white officers killed black men in what looked like cold-blooded murder, including two in just the past week, Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Then came the shootings of police officers in Dallas, in what is being called a payback or revenge killing. Now, we are all holding our breaths to see how this plays out in our city streets, in the presidential election, and in the life of this racially-charged country. I have no easy answers. But I do have a few suggestions. One is that everyone, especially everyone who identifies as white, read a short book called Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a brilliant black journalist who grew up in a bad neighborhood in Baltimore at the height of the crack epidemic. It was published last summer, and no matter how much you think you know, you will learn more than you did about what it is like to be black in America today, and interact with authority figures, especially the police. By the way, I said "identifies as white." Perhaps I should have said, "everyone identified by society as white." After journalist Charlie LeDuff disclosed with some apparent pride that he may have African-American ancestry, a street-wise black colleague of mine snorted "Yeah. Now just let him try living as a black man." The other thing I'd suggest is that we not jump to conclusions about the motives of the shooter. Ironically, America was torn apart in Dallas in a very different way fifty-three years ago, when President Kennedy was assassinated just blocks from where the police officers died last week. Lee Harvey Oswald was about the same age as the Dallas shooter. Oswald claimed to be a Communist, but in reality was just a miserable misfit who wanted to be famous, and got his wish. There are those who would wish to use these killing as an excuse to tear America apart. Let's not give them theirs. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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What do the parties stand for?

Fri, 08 Jul 2016 12:43:47 -0400

Most people don't spend a lot of time thinking about politics; they have lives instead. They go to work or practice their professions; raise their kids, spend time on their hobbies. Many of them do get somewhat interested every four years, when the time comes to pick a new president. Slightly more than half of them actually vote, which doesn't happen in other elections. What I've been thinking about lately is what an average person must think of the candidates and the parties this year. Based on everything I've seen, my guess is that a lot of them have an impression of Hillary Clinton as a career politician and an accomplished liar who will do anything to get elected. Meanwhile, others see Donald Trump as a vulgar brawling clown who is dangerously inexperienced in government and is hostile to minorities and immigrants. In fact, millions of Americans seem to believe both things, which can't be great for democracy. Not to speak of the impressions little Susie and Tommy, and especially little Ahmed and Rosalva, are forming of their government. The election itself is still exactly four months away, and the images I've just painted are sure to be further reenforced by the candidates themselves, who are already indulging in ad hominem attacks on "Crooked Hillary" and the man Democrats plainly want us to think of as "Deranged Donald." Now, I know that some of this has been going on since John Adams first took on Thomas Jefferson, though until recently the nastiest insults were doled out by supporters and surrogates, not the candidates themselves. Things were so comparatively genteel half a century ago that it made a splash when President Lyndon Johnson called Richard Nixon a "chronic campaigner." But apart from that, it seems to me that the two parties have almost stopped trying to define themselves. Republicans originally burst on the scene as the anti-slavery party. Democrats later became the party that stoutly defended a low tariff on imported goods; Republicans, the party of the high tariff. Later, Democrats were the party of the New Deal, of a social safety net that included Social Security and later Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans became the party of lower taxes. Nowadays, however, it is sometimes clear what the parties are against, but not what they are for. I know Republicans are almost universally against what they call "Obamacare" and that to run for office as a Republican, you have to be against a woman's Constitutional right to have an abortion. I know both parties are bitterly against allowing a president from the other party to fill seats on the U.S. Supreme Court. But ask yourself this: What positive change is each party promising? Aside from the Supreme Court, do you hear Democrats saying, "give us back control of Congress and we'll enact these laws that will benefit you?" Are they even promising sensible gun control, on this day after the massacre of the police officers in Dallas? They aren't, any more than Republicans are telling you what they would do to "make America great again." You are going to hear a lot of complaining that so many of us can't be bothered to vote. I just told you a big part of the reason why. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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Destroying Lake Erie

Wed, 06 Jul 2016 11:10:58 -0400

You might remember two years ago, when people in Toledo couldn't drink the water for a couple days because it had been poisoned by toxic cynobacteria in Lake Erie. That was terrifying, and we were told all sorts of precautions were being taken so that this would never happen again. Well, guess what. According to a number of respected environmental activists I interviewed last week, we are allowing so-called factory farms to dump hundreds of millions of untreated manure and liquid waste on land not far from Lake Erie, often when the ground is still frozen. That means a lot of it eventually flows into the lake. What that does, according to Pam Taylor, a full-time volunteer with a group called the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, is fill the lake with phosphorus and nitrates, nutrients for exactly the kinds of algae that have the potential to poison the water. Ms. Taylor has even more reason to care about the Lake Erie watershed area than most of us do. Her ancestors came to mostly rural Lenawee County in 1837, the same year Michigan became a state, and they've been farming there ever since. She has a vested interest in protecting and strengthening rural Michigan's culture and fragile economy. And you can't do that if the water in the area's major lake is poisoned. What Taylor has been doing these days is important but hardly glamorous; as she puts it, she studies poop. Specifically, the immense volumes of waste produced by factory farms, technically known as CAFOs –Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. These are places that keep huge numbers of animals in absolutely horrible conditions to produce meat as cheaply as possible. What she does is to monitor and track the connections between the manure CAFOs produce and the harmful algae blooms that form in Western Lake Erie. Michigan does have fewer of these than Ohio or Indiana, she told me, but she doesn't want to let those responsible off the hook by saying, as some do, "this is an Ohio problem." What her group hopes to do is demonstrate beyond doubt that these giant installations are the main reason for the pollution. Taylor taught business in high school in Adrian for 21 years before retiring five years ago. "I am not against farmers making a living," she told me and added, "I think people should have the right to operate the own businesses." But she thinks that CAFOs are not only the problem, they are only viable because they are propped up with expensive agricultural subsidies politicians refuse to end. "You have these farms with 4,000 cows producing as much waste as a city of 80,000 people. Imagine if the farm had to pay the true expense of dealing with that." So far, she says, she's had little success trying to get our lawmakers to face the problem. "The Michigan legislature has been horrible," she said. But she plans to keep trying to raise public consciousness about Lake Erie. After all, what else can she do? I don't know if she remembers Pogo, the comic strip character who used to say, "we have met the enemy, and he is us." I do know we should all do more to help her win a ceasefire. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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The politics of summer

Tue, 05 Jul 2016 10:42:37 -0400

Well, the Fourth of July is over and it is now, emotionally as well as officially, summer. The presidential primary season is over too. That, unlike even a Michigan winter, seemed to last forever. But we now know – with all due respect to the Libertarian and Green party candidates – either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be our next president. The only excitement remaining is to find out who they will select as their vice presidential candidates. Incidentally, among the many bizarre things about the way in which we select our presidents, one of the oddest may be this: We've spent more than a year considering who the presidential candidates would be. There were innumerable televised debates. More than sixty million people voted in the primaries. However, there's absolutely nothing democratic about the way in which the winners select their running mates, the men or women who would become president if they should resign or die. But if that sounds odd, consider the entire campaign. Over the weekend, I happened to wander in to a couple parties in Northern Michigan held by members of the upper one percent. We are talking about retired corporate executives and lawyers, old money families from Chicago and Cincinnati with palatial lakefront homes in places like Charlevoix and Walloon Lake. Most of them are reflexively Republican. Some may reluctantly vote for Donald Trump. But most will not. They not only find him boorish and distasteful, he frightens them. They fear he would wreck the economy, which works pretty well for them, and possibly endanger world stability. They don't like his nativism. They see his pledge to build a wall between the United States and Mexico as childish campaign rhetoric. Nobody I talked with thought that could never really happen. But they, especially those connected to the auto industry, are especially appalled by his protectionist trade positions. Few are Clinton fans, but they felt she was a known quantity who might make them pay somewhat more in taxes, but who would not upset the world order. That's pretty much how the one percent felt half a century ago, when Barry Goldwater captured the Republican nomination and led his party to a historic defeat. In some ways, Trump is more radical. But Goldwater was never seen as having a chance, and consistently trailed in the polls by as much as thirty percent. Donald Trump, the latest polls show, is behind by no more than five percent, which is barely more than the statistical margin of error. This is hard to believe, when you think just of the things he has said about women or minorities. What's really going on here? The answer is pretty clear, though it seems to have baffled both the one percenters and Clinton herself. Millions of Americans are angry, frightened and confused. Vast numbers of manufacturing jobs have vanished, without good paying jobs to replace them. There are far more auto assembly jobs in Mexico and far fewer here, since NAFTA. Nobody in the establishment has really been speaking to America's displaced workers. Whatever you think of Trump, he is. That may be the biggest hidden story of this election, and I'm not sure that most of those in politics or the media really have a clue. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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Dogs as Weapons

Fri, 01 Jul 2016 11:37:12 -0400

To me, one of the most horrific stories over the last year came in December, when a lady named Lucille Strickland was walking her five-year-old son to kindergarten in Detroit. Suddenly, a pack of four pit bull-type dogs appeared, grabbed the child, pulled him under a fence and into their yard and killed him. Neither the child nor his mother had done anything to provoke the dogs. Police came and killed the dogs, but were too late to save the child. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy went after the owner, a man with a past criminal record named Geneke Lyons, and attempted to convict him of second-degree murder. But before the case went to the jury, Wayne County Circuit Judge James Callahan refused to allow the jury to consider the second-degree murder charge. They then promptly found Lyons guilty of manslaughter and other charges, which could have landed him in prison for up to 15 years. But on Thursday the judge refused to give him a harsh sentence. Instead, he gave Lyons a year in which he is allowed to go to work, but has to spend his nights in jail, followed by four years of probation. The judge said he thought that Lyons had turned his life around, and "did not intend for this child to be viciously attacked." Well, I wasn't in the courtroom, didn't see the trial, and may not have access to information Judge Callahan did. But we have a terrible problem in this country with dogs that are essentially weapons, and most of which are pit bulls. Pit bull is sort of a generic name for a type of dog that is often bred for fighting. The name is sometimes applied to a couple purebred breeds and dogs that are crossbred with similar species. According to a research outfit called, pit bull type dogs make up less than seven percent of the dogs in America, but have been responsible for almost two-thirds of the 360 dog bite deaths in this nation over the last 11 years. Rottweilers were the only other breed notable for killing humans, and they were a very distant second. I know something about dogs, having had them all my adult life, and a brother who is a highly respected dog psychologist. Currently I have an Australian Shepherd who is, quite simply, one of the best friends I have ever had I don't ever want to live without a dog. But while there are some very noble people who rescue pit bulls, some of which go on to live quite normal lives with decent families, these dogs are mostly bred to be weapons, or for use in illegal dog fighting rings. It is no accident that they kill more people than any other breed. And we aren't doing enough to stop it. Geneke Lyons did not have those pit bulls to play ball with him at the park, and he allowed them to run free. They tore a child apart, because that is what dogs like that do. There are vast numbers of people, not just in our inner cities, who are buying pit bulls in a misguided attempt at self-protection. I'm not sure giving him what amounts to a slap on the wrist sends the right message. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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This Michigan pollster goes beneath the surface of politics

Fri, 01 Jul 2016 11:35:27 -0400

This has been a surprising political year, to put it mildly, and there are still more than four months to go before the actual election. Whatever happens, it is safe to say that nobody a year ago really thought Donald Trump would be the Republican Presidential nominee. Hillary Clinton was expected to be the Democratic choice – but nobody imagined that a grumpy old socialist named Bernie Sanders would do as well as he did. In fact, the biggest upset on the Democratic side this spring was Sanders' stunning victory in the Michigan primary. Conventional polls showed Clinton ahead by as much as a whopping 37 points. But one poll was very different. Matt Grossman, the new director of Michigan State University's Institute for Public Policy and Social Research showed the result was within the margin of error. ... other polls were relying too much on older models of who was most likely to vote, and hadn't taken into account how the electorate is changing. When I asked him about why he was the only one who came close to getting it right, Grossman told me that the other polls were relying too much on older models of who was most likely to vote, and hadn't taken into account how the electorate is changing. There are reasons to think this wasn't a fluke. The 37-year-old Grossman has a fast-growing national reputation as an expert on American political parties, the electorate, and on how policy is made and how interest groups impact the process. So I went to see him yesterday to discuss how he sees the broader contours of this election and what's happening in America. Based on his research, there is good news and bad for both sides. Grossman puts Trump's chance of winning the election as no greater than about 25%, which is actually a little higher than the legendary Nate Silver gives him. But Grossman doesn't expect it to be a historic landslide, or for the familiar map of red and blue states to significantly change. He also now gives Democrats slightly less than an even chance at taking back the U.S. Senate - and no more than a 10 to 15% chance of retaking the U.S. House of Representatives. He also now gives Democrats slightly less than an even chance at taking back the U.S. Senate – and no more than a 10 to 15% chance of retaking the U.S. House of Representatives. America, he told me, is a country that now has rough parity between the parties – though they have become very different. Republicans indeed have become a primarily ideological party, while Democrats are, perhaps more than ever, a collection of interest groups. Grossman has a new book that will be published in August called Asymmetric Politics, which shows not only how the parties are different, but how they work in practice. That doesn't mean we are necessarily doomed to dysfunction. Instead, his research indicates as a nation we are "philosophically conservative and operationally liberal." Americans like to denounce government, in other words, but see no contradiction in demanding their particular special benefits, he noted wryly. But when liberals do manage to start new programs these days, they tend to use the tools of the free market to do it. For example, the Affordable Care Act, which relies on private insurers, not a single payer government system. Grossman knows there may well be unforeseen developments in the next few months that may dramatically affect this race. He and his researchers are preparing to take two major polls in Michigan this fall. After his success this spring, I intend to pay close attention. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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