Interview with Gov. Granholm, who views politics and the economy at large in 'The War Room'
After four years of intractable congressional politics, it was amusing to view several months of a primary contest that ranged from intemperate to intolerant. Contestants seemed destined to amplify Warhol’s formula for everybody’s ration of 15 minutes of fame (or infamy), with a revolving cast of leading characters.
For me in California, the most populous state, the experience of trying to understand the politicians and their adherents or opponents in these other states with their varying contest rules was both dizzying and confounding. To make sense of this, I consulted Governor Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan, after the Michigan primary and a week before Super Tuesday (when 10 states with 437 delegates were at stake).
Granholm is the exemplary governor for our times, having handled massive state unemployment in America’s manufacturing heartland. She has compiled the lessons learned from that searing experience in the book "A Governor’s Story: The Fight for Jobs and America’s Economic Future," written with her husband, Dan Mulhern, as both professional and personal triumphs of a family.
After two successful terms as governor (and the highest nationally ranked Swedish-American government official), the governor has returned temporarily to California where she grew up, for another period filled with potential. Here she is close to her parents but misses their adult children in Michigan. Now she is a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, with joint appointments at the Goldman School of Public Policy and Boalt Hall Law School (she has been, after all, both attorney general and governor—rather like California’s Jerry Brown). Her husband lectures at UC’s Haas School of Business. If that were not enough, her combination of beauty, brains and political smarts made her the natural for Current TV’s iconic show, The War Room, analyzing the politics of this election year.
I spoke with Granholm and began by asking what lessons she had learned about 21st century manufacturing, especially since President Obama has made this a key feature of his campaign.
Reflecting upon the 42,000 factories lost in her state and the effect upon families and communities during this period, she learned that the U.S. has lost repetitive motion manual labor: We cannot be cost-competitive with workers abroad. Yet as Germany demonstrates, we must create modern manufacturing, Manufacturing 2.0, as she terms it. In this age of global competitiveness, every government is now competing to learn and perfect a new, more cost-effective manufacturing system.
A key to this is reducing regulatory hurdles to greater productivity without throwing away all protections for labor and consumer safety. This will take discretion, exceeding the intelligence of bumper sticker slogans. Such efficiencies can be multiplied when all levels of government are responsive and reciprocate for the benefit of businesses and their customers. She believes that if every regulation had an expiration date, requiring a review if not modification, this could immediately enhance our efficiency. What we need is a more aggressive partnership with manufacturing—between government, academic research and training, as well as both large corporations and small business. Not mere chamber of commerce cheerleading but partnered planning as performed by many chambers.
In moderating a panel of multinational CEOs for the business council on the theme of “What is the role of government in keeping jobs in the U.S.?” she asked them which government is best at this; who should be our model? The consensus was Singapore. What are the lessons we can learn? We need an aggressive, professional economic development strategy, one that identifies the sectors where we can be most competitive. Then we must focus on attracting employers in those fields.
How does Singapore—a small island nation without many natural resources—achieve this? They provide the necessary land for the employer; they target foreign direct investment to build or enlarge their employment. Another lesson: They build clusters of manufacturing, including all elements of the supply chain. Since manufacturers need access to capital, the government itself provides them low-cost loans and even competitive grants.
But they don’t stop there. They provide specific training for their citizens linked to the company’s needs for immediate employment. The chancellor of Singapore’s world-ranked business school noted one other key difference: In the U.S. manufacturing is a dirty word for politicians and rabid fans; in Singapore it is hallowed, for raising the standard of living for all citizens. All aboard for the next chamber junket to Singapore!
It takes skill AND coordination
Our problem is that we have the skill set but lack the coordination that comes from a well-thought, well-executed U.S. economic development strategy, playing to our own national strengths of iterative innovation and inventiveness. We can win by being both quick and quick-witted. Because middle-class wages have been hollowed out during the past quarter century, our solution to both debt and deficit is job creation and investing in the most appropriate sectors yielding sustained growth, so that we earn enough to reduce the debt while learning the lessons of fiscal prudence on a personal and governmental level.
To achieve this we must think differently about how we deliver education and degrees corresponding to the needs of the business community. In Michigan, an entire generation of workers (who had never gone to college) was displaced. Granholm’s task was to tailor solutions to meet them where they were and advance them to what was needed for them to secure work. In the depths of a depression, she launched the “No Worker Left Behind” program, offered to laid-off employees. Displaced workers were offered free tuition to receive education and training in specific, high-demand fields. While there were no guarantees of employment upon graduating, the fields were desperately in need of skilled labor and each field offered many jobs. The state would pay for up to two years of free education in such areas.
As a result, the state’s placement rate was four times higher than the U.S. average. In effect, with grace and decisiveness under extreme duress, Granholm proved that investing in job creation rather than cutting taxes was the wiser choice to achieve both goals. The flaw is to think that only by cutting the size and involvement of government can the U.S. unleash the power of business to generate jobs. It’s rather like the phrase “creative destruction” for which each party emphasizes a different word.
However, Singapore’s government is considerably different from ours. Did the CEOs recommend any European democracies more similar to our own? They did indeed, and their choices were not surprising: Sweden and Germany. What distinguished each of these? Sweden supports the growth of specific industries appropriate for its geography: energy production and the manufacture of these technologies. With 400,000 people working in Sweden's energy sector, they are developing strategic policies to drive this sector, helping it respond to customer demands while partnering with businesses in these sectors to make them internationally competitive.
In contrast, Germany focused on workforce training, to keep intact and productive its highly skilled workforce. By enforcing that, all took a proportional cut in pay, unlike in the U.S., where all remained employed, in turn stabilizing and maintaining their consumer society.
The Michigan Primary
What I could not understand about Romney’s performance in Michigan’s primary, was that, while claiming the role of hometown kid, he had denounced the bailout (preferring bankruptcy) of the car companies, which employed such a large percentage of the state’s workforce and contributed so much to state revenues, directly or indirectly. Everybody in the state seemed somehow employed or related to someone in the industry. Even more confusing was his support for bailouts of the financial institutions causing the crisis—which rebounded with astounding profit sharing and bonuses—but not for manufacturing, claiming that labor, which had sacrificed more than financiers, unduly benefitted. During the primary, when all the car companies were successful and the two were paying off their debt to the public, ironically, Romney claimed that the turnaround of the auto industry was because Obama had followed his advice!
As Romney said, he was grateful for winning Michigan, however small the victory. It seemed somewhat Pyrrhic, though, as in Iowa, when it turned out that Santorum had won as many delegates as he had. Granholm explained that while 60% of the Michigan Republicans were indeed against the bailout, that still left a sizable 40% of them opposed to his position. And in the state as a whole, the public numbers were reversed: 60% favored the bailout (so that Romney’s 60% now comprised but some of the state’s 40% minority).
Particularly in the variegated ideological conflicts of the Republican primaries, where the candidates must each vie to express more extreme positions, it does seem calculated to reach the threshold with angry factions, despite the party and its leaders’ assurances that after their successful convention all will be unified to overthrow the president. However, since the general electorate does not share all their positions, curiosity compels even non-partisans to continue to watch their actions and listen to their positions leading up to their convention. Indeed the primaries may simply be the first act; what follows may be as entertaining. I hope somebody out there is making a home movie that can capture all the featured players. Perhaps we can make sense of it all in retrospect.
Since our interview, the Super Tuesday results have been posted. However, the big show wasn’t as big as expected: from more than half the states competing in 2008, only 10 states competed this year, and though Romney increased his delegate count to more than double (746) that of his other three competitors combined, he is still only half way to the delegate threshold needed (1,144) to enter the convention hall as presumptive nominee.
This was sufficient for Romney to warn (beg?) the others to bow out now, however. Given this lack of a winner, it appears the final frenzy may reveal many more facets of each candidate. This race may be decided after all by California Republicans, with their grand prize of 72 delegates. And if the contest is not decided before the convention, we won’t lack entertainment during the summer doldrums.
Turning to a more cheerful topic I asked Granholm about her joint appointment at UC Berkeley and what she enjoyed most about her new position. She brightened considerably in speaking of her total joy in teaching such young, brilliant minds as those of her students, who want to find a way to improve the world. They certainly picked the right professor to teach the course “Governing During Tough Times.” Her partner in that and her current semester’s course on “Energy Policy” is Professor Steve Weisman of Boalt.
She is fascinated by the pragmatic idealism of her students. They believe in our democracy; however, not in the poisonous politics at all levels. Now they are reinforced in this by the resignation of Maine’s moderate republican senator for just those reasons. Rather than indulging in political blood brawls, her students prefer working on policy as a more practical way to accomplish beneficial social change. But this is precisely where she meets them with the insights of a practical politician. As she encourages them to become directly involved in the political issues of the day, she cautions them that “This is not about YOU.” Valued politics must be about worthy ends and of achieving these goals by persuading others through compromise for the common wealth. One must be willing to compromise to advance society and find mutually beneficial solutions for citizens. It is this Greater Good that one should be dedicated to, not merely one's ego or ambition. And it is very difficult to maintain balance, when half the people are flattering you, while others are demonizing you.
Finally we turned to her latest attainment, heading The War Room on Current TV. Every politician’s war room is where they strategize and analyze their positions and those of opponents, often by seeking advice of many others. She certainly did not foresee herself as a political commentator, but when offered a ringside seat observing this election year, she accepted the role of moderator on this cable channel. This allows her to meet with savvy people from all across the political spectrum to better understand our current state of affairs. Last week she spoke with the chairman of the California Republican Party, as earlier she had spoken with a very high ranking Michigan Republican colleague. (Do I see a book or television documentary ahead?)
So, what are her concerns for our governments today? First, she is creating an environment in which we can regain civility in government. Next she is increasing the talent pool so we will have a diversity of tolerant and practical people willing to tackle critical issues. She is recruiting people—especially minorities—to provide greater perspective and more solutions. Among these she is particularly a potent exemplar in trying to get more women to run for office at all levels. As she and one of her guests mentioned, women are used to collaborating in friendly networks to accomplish practical ends and are superb at doing full jobs while caring for family, friends, neighbors and children, by keeping them ever uppermost in their minds. At least with such politicians we would avert such embarrassing situations as California congressman Issa’s subcommittee of white males deliberating the fate of women, while excluding them from testifying on controversial women’s issues.
Granholm knows from experience that women are naturally collaborative. When she was governor, she could always rely on two women legislators—one from each party—for sponsoring and passing legislation in the public interest—because they could see beyond themselves and their party to what needed to be done for their state and their people.
Watch The War Room with Jennifer Granholm