Wednesday, November 10, 2010

At the Crossroads: Middle America and the Battle to Save the Car Industry, by Abe Aamidor and Ted Evanoff

Oddly enough, this book tells a similar story to the David Brooks column I just shook my head over—but it tells that story responsibly and with a more than rhetorical sympathy for the economic struggles of Middle America.

Like Brooks's column, At the Crossroads admonishes the Obama government for essentially dropping the ball on the Midwest, but where Brooks sees this as inept political maneuvering—somehow Obama allowed blue-collar Midwesterners who "were willing to take a flier" on him in 2008 to become "disillusioned with Democratic policies"—Aamidor and Evanoff, the authors of At the Crossroads understand that the reality is quite a bit more complicated than poorly-managed political theater. Brooks acknowledges that "voters in this region face structural problems, not cyclical ones," but seems not to understand that "structural" means something more than "big, ugly, persistent mess."

At the Crossroads differs from Brooks and his ilk, therefore, not just by virtue of the fact that it is a book, not an editorial column, and can therefore bring to bear an armature of both statistical and quasi-ethnographic data about the collapsing industries of the Midwest and the political ramifications of that collapse, but also because At the Crossroads recognizes that elections and exit polls are not the only way to figure out what is going on within the electorate, or a portion thereof.

Aamidor and Evanoff also understand that Midwesterners are not, as Brooks depicts them, simply waiting around for the federal government to figure out how to talk nice enough to win their votes. At the Crossroads tells the story of how efforts by auto-city mayors and union leaders to retain jobs and find innovative ways of gaining some economic security for their communities. Traveling around mostly among a network of small Indiana cities that are, or were, satellites of the Detroit auto industry, the two authors fill in a rich picture of the challenges facing these communities and the obstacles that impede economic redevelopment—two of the most significant being the guiding political-economic philosophies of the past ("What's good for General Motors…") and the present ("What's good for Wall Street…").

I came across this book as part of the excellent Eco-Libris campaign to raise the profile of books printed on recycled/FSC-certified paper; At the Crossroads is printed by ECW Press in Canada.

6 comments:

Crafty Green Poet said...

This sounds really interesting, did you see the documentary Requiem for Detroit? The book I think would complement that film very well.

Serena said...

stopping by from another stop on the campaign...I really enjoy these kinds of analyses. The midwest is in a mess that needs not only to be fixed economically, but politically...why are the governments so bent on catering to industry rather than their communities...focusing on community could help them redefine their mission and goals and ultimately lead to the entrepreneurial spirit that could right some of the financial wrongs.

Shelley said...

Great comment about life being more complicated than political theater. I write about the poor of our grandparents' generation, and there are layers upon layers of effort, sadness, laughter, and hard-won wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Andrew:

Doesn't this blog fly in the face of ther currently revitalized GM after the Obama-instigated bailout?

Robert B. Vellani, PhD

Andrew Seal said...

Dr. Vellani,

Well, the real question is, what part of GM has been "revitalized," or rather, who has been "revitalized" here? I don't think that GM turning a profit makes much of a difference to the workers it has laid off (and continues to buy out), or to the towns that have lost jobs because of shuttered factories. That is more what the book is concerned with--the network of communities which were and largely are so dependent on the auto industry.

aamidor said...

Just saw this blog post quite by accident; I am one of the co-authors of said book. I'm not a David Brooks hater, but glad to see someone recognizes that life is more complex than what he sees/talks about. As far as people thinking Obama saved the car industry, the fact is the best units of GM and Chrysler would have been sold in a proper bankruptcy ... without the UAW contracts. The bondholders were shafted, quite illegally (even though a judge said it was legal in that scripted bankruptcy). But, as the book documented, there was plenty of blame to go around for the pain in the industry. Abe Aamidor