OPINION: Finley: If Michigan didn't rally, blame Whitmer

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Nolan Finley, The Detroit News
·3 min read
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Apr. 20—When a leader complains the people won't follow her, it's typically a self-indictment of her leadership skills.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spent the weekend on national television blaming Michigan's surge in COVID-19 cases on the failure of state residents to "rally" to her calls to combat the virus.

She's trying to save us, but we just won't listen. And a Republican-led Legislature keeps challenging her authority. And a GOP-controlled state Supreme Court tied her hands.

And oh, poor her.

The whoppers she told in deflecting responsibility went unchallenged by her fawning interviewers. Whitmer has no fewer tools to manage the pandemic than she's ever had.

But what she did didn't work, and she has no idea what to do next except wait for vaccines to turn the tide — the right response, by the way.

The slander that Michiganians failed to rally to their own defense, though, merits a response.

If Michigan didn't rally, as Whitmer alleges, the fault lies with her autocratic governing style and not with the people she failed to inspire.

People don't rally to a bully, or to someone they don't fully trust.

From the beginning, Whitmer entangled her pandemic decision-making with her personal political ambitions. At the onset of the outbreak Whitmer was actively campaigning for a spot on the Democratic presidential ticket. She hired a consultant to raise her national profile and set herself up as the party's lead antagonist of then-President Donald Trump.

Michigan residents could never be sure if she was acting in their best interests or for the benefit of the Democratic Party.

She also saw the pandemic as an opportunity to solidify her power, using Michigan's conflicting state-of-emergency laws to seize total control of the state. That allowed her to issue harsh shutdown orders without the bother of having to explain or defend them. She enforced those arbitrary orders with a heavy hand; it was "do as I say or else."

In cutting out the Legislature, she lost what could have been an ally in helping build support for the measures necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

Her stubborn lack of transparency doesn't help. She speaks only in carefully managed press conferences and withholds public information on critical issues such as nursing home deaths.

Whitmer's disastrous communications team remains more focused on making her a national celebrity than on selling her message to Michigan.

And yet, it's an unwarranted smear to say Michigan isn't complying with safety measures. In my recent travels, I see far more mask-wearing and social distancing here than in other states.

But just like the governor, the people of Michigan are frustrated and weary after more than a year of living under abnormal conditions.

If Whitmer wants them to rally for this last stand against COVID, she needs to be less a public scold and more of a motivating coach urging them across the goal line.

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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