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Commentary: The politics of 'me'

I had dinner last night with two social workers whom I’ve known for a long time, who take a keen interest in what’s happening to people in our state. They follow politics, but not in the kind of minute detail political junkies do. They are not huge fans of Governor Snyder, especially since his administration has done things like cut off cash welfare payments permanently to families that include more than 30,000 children.

But they were baffled about one thing. They were surprised and pleased that Michigan Republicans supported extending insurance coverage to include autistic children.

“Why did that happen?” one asked me.  Well, I said, not to be cynical, but there are those who think it might be related to the fact that Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley has a daugher with autism. Yes, your perspective tends to change when things get close to home. 

Take one of the most senior figures in the Michigan Republican Party, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. Brooks already had been Oakland County prosecutor for several years when Brian Calley was born.  As anyone around then knows, nobody ever called Patterson a liberal.

But yesterday, Brooks Patterson released a letter bitterly attacking any attempt to limit coverage by “reforming” Michigan’s current no-fault auto insurance. The governor and the insurance industry are eager to save money by limiting benefits.

Currently, our system provides for lifetime benefits for those who suffer catastrophic auto injuries, regardless of who was at fault. Patterson is livid that anyone wants to change this.

His letter calls the attempt reckless, and says it, “would result in damage to Michigan’s economy, shift millions of dollars of cost from private insurance to Medicaid and destroy the livelihood of Michigan’s catastrophically insured auto victims.“

Suddenly, he is on the same side as a lot of people who he normally opposes. What accounts for this? Well, I have no doubt Brooks is sincere. But I wonder if he would have felt the same way a year ago.

Since then, he has been in a horrific car accident which cost him multiple broken bones, a serious head injury and left him in a coma for some time. His driver was even more seriously hurt, and may need lifetime care.  Some call this a “come to Jesus” moment.

Such conversions are not limited to Republicans. Half a century ago, the nation was riveted by the news that President Kennedy’s wife had given birth to a premature baby, who died after two agonizing days. After that, money was poured into research on how to keep preemies alive.

Well, I think enlightenment is good, however you happen to find it. But isn’t being a leader all about the ability to see that the world is bigger than your personal concerns? I’d like to think so. But then, I am an incurable optimist.

Earlier this week, I talked about a young man whose life is likely ruined because he was caught looking at child porn on the Internet. Well, legislators of my generation never looked at any Internet porn when they were young, for one reason. There was no Internet. If you don’t think our laws on this are bound to change as time goes by, you may be naïve. 

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry 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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