Michigan needs skeptical citizens, not good partisans

Demand more than red or blue ties from politicians — Demand a vision for a free future.

To let the media tell it, the American flag is the only place where red and blue come together anymore. We hear reports – more likely projections – of a great divide, a slow-moving civil war, a coming national divorce.

Listen closely to such concerns. There’s always a conditional beneath them, a way out of the chastisement: Vote for the blue team (usually), or the red team. Once the adults are back in the room, they say, things will go back to normal.

But partisanship is not our path to a better life. Clown noses come in red and blue. We must instead be citizens.

This summer and fall, and for the next two years, people wearing flag pins will knock on your door. They will ask for your support, and you will be flattered they came all that way.

Be sure to ask what they’re doing now, today, out of office, to serve the community.

If their service is somehow conditioned on having power, beware. If someone needs power to get involved, that person is not involved. 

Ask not if the candidate you meet is a Democrat or a Republican. Ask what kind of citizen that candidate is. Does he attend school board meetings? Volunteer? Show up? Does she speak up, and does her voice carry? Do the candidates who ask for your vote get their hands dirty, helping out?

Have they sown seed, or are they just showing up for the harvest?

Ask not what they’ll accomplish with a two- or four- or six-year term, when they’ll be a rookie backbenchers. Not much, probably.

Ask the candidate's vision for 50 years from now, the 2070s. People who are neighbors and strangers today will be family by then. Since we can’t know how that will work out, we have to imagine a future that’s free and viable for everybody. What is that vision? Ask.

You vote “blue no matter who”? You’re “red ‘til you’re dead”? This serves politicians, sure. They can count on you as a certain vote and not extend any effort.

But your upfront, unquestioning loyalty denies politicians the growth they’d get in facing a skeptical citizen. Make them earn your vote. They’ll be better for it, and you’ll be better off.

Partisanship demands that you take off your thinking cap. The same offense that was a grievous sin two years ago is now excused. The same overspending you endorsed by silence is now is a state of emergency. What changed, besides the color of the ties?

If there is no right and wrong, if that is decided by red and blue, you’re not acting as a citizen anymore. You're not thinking about 10 million Michiganders, who pay billions to the state and need the damn roads, the damn schools, and the damn public health system to function. You’re thinking how things “play” and how they will affect poll numbers. How small and sad, to trade engaged citizenship for petty partisanship. Don't try this at home.

Partisans will say anything that benefits their team and hurts the other team. If wind-up dolls ever come with a string long enough that it can be yanked off-camera, their TV bookings will dry up overnight.

Partisans are predictable and boring. They will not be alongside you when you advocate for your elderly parents, your children, or yourself. They’ll be in the spin room, explaining that “there’s nothing to see here,” as their counterparts write fundraising letters.

If you seek a pleasant peninsula, get to work, citizen.

James David Dickson is managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Write to him at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.