White House Hopefuls Already Making Detroit Stops

A crowd listens as a candidate running for President of the United States gives a speech in Detroit:

"The fact of the matter is that the President of the United States stated that we had a fine year in automobile production, even though a few years ago we produced 1,500,000 more cars than this year, and even though in the city of Detroit you know people who are unemployed in the auto industry," the candidate said.

"...I don't take that view of the American economy. I think this country's power is unlimited," [1]Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy continued, speaking in front of a crowd in Detroit's Cadillac Square in September of 1960, about two months before he was elected President of the United States.

Kennedy's speech doesn't sound too far off from the speeches of contemporary Presidential candidates. It would appear, that some things just don't change.

Walk down Woodward Avenue a year from now and you may notice windows and walls plastered with placards positioning names such as Bush, Clinton, and Carson for President. Walk on Wayne State's Campus and you may see college Democrats and Republicans passing out stickers and signing folks up to vote. The Motor City has of course put the world on wheels with automobile production, but it also has been a place where the wheels of presidential history spun time and time again.

Ronald Reagan first received the Republican nomination for President at the 1980 Republican National Convention held in Joe Louis Arena. Reagan stayed in a hotel room in the Detroit Renaissance Center and pledged "for those who've abandoned hope, we'll restore hope and we'll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again!" [2]After the only Michigan-born President, Gerald Ford, lost his bid for another term to Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ford remained an intriguing player at this convention as rumors circled that Reagan would choose the former President Ford as a running mate (he chose George. H.W. Bush instead).

1980 wasn't so different than 2008 or 2016. As often the case in politics, the party opposite the party currently in the Oval Office, is campaigning on the promise of revitalization, restoration, resurgence, and renaissance -- themes that arguably are part of Detroit's essence (the official motto of the city is "We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes") and it is therefore no surprise that candidates are already once again visiting the Motor City to begin the long and winding road of presidential campaigning.

2016 Republican Presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Ben Carson have both already visited Detroit in 2015, beginning to speak on issues and hoping to establish their own distinct voices that could set them apart from other candidates.

As a city with an unemployment rate of 12% that just came back from bankruptcy in December 2014, Detroit stands as a tangible and tenacious icon of the current state of the American economy. 

It's a city with people like the walking man. It's a place where candidates can reach out and takes photos with the average American person. A place, where candidates may find their next "Joe the Plumber."

Presidential candidates love to promise that halcyon days are ahead, that the future will be even more brilliant and booming than the past. Detroit is a place with promise, but a place with blight and belligerence that one could blame on their political opponent.

On May 4th, Detroit-born Carson announced his 2016 presidential campaign at the Detroit Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, where a gospel choir performed a soulful rendition of Eminem's song Lose Yourself.

Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine, a Detroit Public School, is named after Carson.

Source: USA Today

Source: USA Today

On February 4th, Jeb Bush spoke before the Detroit Economic Club at COBO Center, saying "the central question we face here in Detroit and across America is this: Can we restore that dream — that moral promise — that each generation can do better?"

We're going to hear many speeches like this, in the months before November 2016, and for many elections beyond.

Voters should take notice of how candidates visiting Detroit incorporate Detroit culture and community into their campaigns, and young professionals should give every candidate their ear for at least a minute. The way that it is supposed to be, is that every candidate truly has a chance, and no voter can make an educated decision until they've thoroughly looked at their options.

In a city where t-shirts are sold on the idea of Detroit vs. Everybody, maybe we should take a rational look at each candidate, and at least hear them out for what they have to say. We should take each speech with a grain of salt, but we should at least know who is saying what. It is easy for young professionals such as you and I to dismiss electoral politics as a cynical circus that doesn't deserve our time, but the Presidency is as powerful a position as there is, and we should do as much as possible to make sure we have a say in the selection of our leadership.

Young professionals have a say on their city, community, state, and nation's future and there is no reason not to challenge each and every candidate to provide solutions for the issues facing Detroit and the United States as a whole. Before it's all said and done, candidates will have visited Americas major cities and made a convincing case to half of voters that they can best address the issues of the time. Detroit is still a major American city, and it will surely be a campaign destination for more candidates down the line.

In 1976, 1980, 1984, and 1988, the Republican nominee for President won Michigan's electoral votes. Since 1992, every Democratic nominee for President has won Michigan's electoral votes. As Michigan's population has plummeted since the 60s, the State's electoral votes have been reduced from 21 to 16. [3] But it still matters.

One day, as your grandchildren peruse through your belongings in some dusty attic, they'll look behind the old discarded early-model robots and the trophies you earned as a kid, and they'll see artifacts from our time in history.

Maybe they'll see some buttons with candidates names and faces painted on in red, white, and blue, and maybe they'll ponder how all of the hoopla of years-long presidential campaigning, soundbytes and Political Action Committees included, ultimately boils down to a single day when people go into a voting booth, check a box, and determine who is in charge of their nation for four entire years.

The campaigning has begun my friends, and as annoying as it can get, we had better pay attention.


[1] http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=60409

[2] http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25970

[3] http://www.270towin.com/states/Michigan

Steve Zoski (@z0ski) manages the volunteer program of the Michigan Science Center, a Midtown Detroit institution that makes STEM learning fun even for a liberal arts guy like himself. He is a proud University of Michigan alum, and is addicted to reading almost as much as he is addicted to coffee. The coolest "person" he knows is actually a dog.