In Which I Review Jennifer Granholm’s Book

12 10 2011

I was about halfway through former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s book, A Governor’s Story: The Fight for Jobs and America’s Economic Future, when I realized: I really need to find more interesting things to do with my Friday nights.

There are few reasons for a well-adjusted, sane individual to read a political memoir, no matter the author. But Granholm was an incredibly polarizing figure–a governor blamed for so many of the problems Michigan is still tackling, yet one still able to win a second term despite massive opposition.

A Governor’s Story, which Granholm coauthored with her husband Dan Mulhern, could have been a fascinating peek inside the mind of a woman who tried to steer Michigan away from the rocks in its darkest hour. It could have been a compendium of sage advice–a record of lessons learned the hard way, a cautionary tale for politicians and businessmen alike. It wasn’t.

I should have known I was in for an ordeal when I couldn’t find A Governor’s Story for sale at the local Barnes & Noble. All the copies were stashed behind the cash register, out of sight and out of mind. And it’s never a good sign when a cashier asks if you’d like a brown paper bag to hide the shame of carrying a book about in public. Still, I girded my loins and soldiered forward into Grahnolm’s account, hopeful she would say something to redeem her gubernatorial record.

The redemption never came. A Governor’s Story is a glittering, multi-faceted disappointment, but its foremost failure is its inability to humanize Grahnolm. With the possible exception of a few passages about the stresses and strains of family life while in office, it is difficult to see Granholm as anything other than a single-minded, cardboard cutout of a politician.

She seems to have been born wearing a pantsuit. Her rise to the office of Governor reads as a part of a carefully road-mapped political life rather than a crowning personal accomplishment. She speaks, and perhaps even thinks, in progressive talking points. She idolizes Hillary Clinton, and deifies Barack Obama.

Throughout A Governor’s Story, Granholm frames herself as a visionary heroine fighting for Michigan, and by extension, American jobs. The villains are predictable: anti-tax politicians and globalizing corporations conspiring to stymie her administration with a string of “inherited dilemmas” and “disasters driven by national and global forces.” This should sound familiar, for it is the same rhetoric relentlessly deployed by the Obama Administration.

Granholm did face very real problems during her bout in Lansing, including Michigan’s dramatic job loss the bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors. Yet she spends pages bemoaning the flight of jobs to foreign countries with lower wage rates, scarcely mentioning the foreign automakers opening factories across the business-friendly American South. Right-to-work legislation is never mentioned, even in critical terms–a stunning, and telling, omission.

The book’s content makes any criticism of its style almost superfluous, but Granholm’s prose deserves scrutiny as well. The text was laden with hackneyed phrases and partisan attacks that bordered on childish (“über-conservative,” “shared sacrifice,” “jumbled sea of humanity”). She referred to the relationship between two Michigan legislators as a “bromance.” “Aauuggh!” was used as a casual interjection. I include these examples only to give a sense of how difficult it is to read a book while constantly rolling one’s eyes.

Then there’s the dialogue. A sample:

“I take it the governor has a clear strategy?” Dan inquired, peering at me over his reading glasses.
“Not just a strategy—it’s a plan of attack! We’re going on offense!”
Jack loved anything that smacked of battle. “Like an army on horseback?” he demanded, eyes aglow.
“You got it, Jack! Instead of being the victim, we’re going to be the predator. Instead of being the dinner, we’re going to be feasting!”

It’s not exactly The West Wing script material. In fact, stilted dialogue like that is unlikely to secure a job writing romance novels for Harlequin. Perhaps that is why, after leaving office ahead of incoming Governor Rick Snyder, Granholm turned instead to the welcoming arms of the University of California, Berkeley– an environment where her ideology needs no justification or even coherent explanation.

Unless you are die-hard Granholm supporter, a masochist (but I repeat myself), or someone in need of a $27.99 fix for a very wobbly table, I don’t particularly recommend reading Granholm’s A Governor’s Story. While I did not expect the book to be a sheepish apology, I never anticipated that it would be an unabashed apologia for a series of policies that failed in Michigan, and will lead to ruin wherever else they are implemented.

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