Our short-fused, highly combustible mayor has ignited again, this time for the country to see. And that may signal a short-term victory for autoworkers at the expense of long-term loss for the Capital City.
In a pair of local radio interviews last week, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero went after President Barack Obama’s administration for keeping its feet in the concrete on the fair trade issue.
On “Ebling And You,” Bernero called Obama’s announcement of a fuel efficiency standards deal (which Gov. Jennifer Granholm flew to Washington to attend) “a big yawner.”
“This is a whole lot of nothing. This is a lot of hype. That’s my perspective,” he said. “The auto industry was going this way anyway. What’s the news?”
He agreed with Ebling that lawmakers had “cement between their ears” on the issue of the protecting American manufacturing jobs through a more “fair” foreign trade policy.
“We’re talking about Congress here, so they learn slow,” Bernero quipped.
Bernero’s snippy attitude comes after his “Keep it Made in America” teach-in for members of Congress was upstaged by Obama’s aforementioned press conference on the same day.
Two days later, Bernero on-air comments centered around how Obama’s federal government “was not protecting us. It’s not standing up for the American worker.”
While attempting to soften his remarks by saying he’s only “trying to make a great president greater,” Lansing’s hottest firebrand launched into a populist manifesto about how only citizen action was going to free America from the “Wall Street gang” Obama is taking advice from.
“Unfortunately, the president is surrounded by the Wall Street gang, people like (Treasury Secretary Timothy) Geithner, (chief economic adviser Lawrence) Summers, and even (Chief of Staff) Rahm Emanuel,” Bernero said. “A lot of them were retreads who were there with (former President Bill) Clinton and what did we get with them? We got a lot of free trade, not fair trade.”
The hot rhetoric came about 10 days before Bernero is scheduled to lock arms on Monday, June 1, with Social Injustice Lightning Rod Jesse Jackson at a rally at the Capitol called “Reinvest in America! Keep the Dream Alive.”
Having thrown any diplomatic, let’splay-ball strategy out the window, Bernero has chosen to join forces with the same guy who was caught off camera during the election saying he wanted to cut Obama’s “nuts out” for “talking down to black people.”
If Bernero has a thermostat, he may want to locate it. Already known as the country’s “Angriest Mayor,” Bernero risks spinning out of control, becoming a caricature of himself and hurting Lansing in the process by devolving into a megalomania cal sideshow.
Prominent Democrat Joel Ferguson told me he remembered former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young’s calling Ronald Reagan “old prune face” back in the 1980s. Coincidentally, the federal money dried up for Detroit during Reagan’s tenure in office.
OK, Reagan and Young were of different political parties, but still, says Ferguson, Bernero is “killing his effectiveness with the name-calling. They’re going to yawn when Lansing needs something and they see him coming. They’re going to say, ‘Here’s another grandstander.’ (Bernero’s) got to be careful.”
Bernero is justifiably antsy. Any Michigan Democrat worth his or her union stripes talked last year about the “unfair trade policies” with China, which tax American-made goods nearly out of competitiveness while Chinese goods come to our shores free of charge.
Last year, Gov. Jennifer Granholm couldn’t hiccup without banging on former President George W. Bush about the unjust double-standard, but once the moving truck left 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, she been breathing into a bag on the issue.
At some point, Obama may back up his campaign talk about enforcing trade rules with China, but up until now, holding General Motors and Chrysler’s hand into bankruptcy has been the focus.
UAW officials, living life with Obama’s hand wrapped snuggly around the automakers’ necks, may be bothered by this, but they’re not saying anything. The United Steelworkers, the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and the Michigan Education Council have a bit more freedom to grumble, and they are. All three are co-sponsoring Bernero’s June 1 tea bag-like rally for America’s blue collar workers.
Maybe Bernero’s big mouth pays off.
It’s conceivable that with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, new Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and TV’s Judge Greg Mathis on the agenda for the June 1 rally that the momentum will build for stricter trade policy enforcement.
Maybe taking on Obama makes him friends in labor and so popular among blue-collar workers that the “Bernero For Governor 2010” talk returns.
But it’s more than equally possible our loose-lipped mayor blasts his foot off his leg and becomes the butt of a “Saturday Night Live” joke, losing any credibility he may have with any D.C. decision-maker in the process.
Given the economic trouble we’re in these days, Lansing certainly doesn’t need that. (Kyle Melinn is the editor at the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekly.
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