Although wealthy Republican Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, personally apologized for the catastrophe in Flint, he emphasized this, "Government failed you — federal, state and local leaders — by breaking the trust you place in us."
As Juan Cole made clear, Flint's water from Lake Huron has been fine under the city's elected government. But "Snyder staged a coup in Flint and appointed a city caretaker,or Emergency Manager, one Ed Kurtz, depriving the citizens of their voting rights. And Snyder’s appointee decided that a little money could be saved by switching the city’s water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Dept. to the local Flint River. DWSD complained bitterly about Kurtz setting the two cities against one another."
As emails from the governor's staff also make clear, the crisis was dismissed by his top aides as unmerited complaints from antagonists in the majority black, Democratic city. In an echo of the GOP anti-science mentality, a pediatrician's study of lead in the water and its hazards was blown off as "data." Data, as we know, has a left-wing bias.
Behold, government run like a business.
Snyder is not the most ideological Republican in American politics. Indeed, he received praise for aiding in the rescue of Detroit without resorting to the most draconian methods.
But he is one of the supermen the party seems to idealize — a wealthy businessman with little or no government experience. Doug Ducey is another. And Donald Trump. The conceit is that government is the problem, but if you "run it like a business," government might do better (but must always be viewed with suspicion).
This is a subset of the insidious infiltration of the commons and the public good by corporate interests. We saw it when Wall Street socialized its losses to the taxpayers while privatizing its profits in the Great Recession it had caused. It is at work in the assorted rackets of charter schools, private prisons and the Military Industrial Complex.
Flint was once one of the most business happy cities in America, with the largest concentration of General Motors employees in the world. Native son Michael Moore documented how then-GM Chief Executive Roger Smith eviscerated the city and its blue-collar middle class by shutting down plant after plant.
Those middle-class union wages got in the way of cheaper workers in Mexico, a savings that would allow more wealth to be distributed upward. It was "just business."
And so it was with Snyder, a former accountant with Coopers & Lybrand who went on to become a venture capitalist. By the time he became governor, what was the "upside" of a place such as Flint? The poverty rate was nearly 42 percent ('takers"). Median household income was half that of the state overall. And did I say black and Democratic?
I remember living in Dayton, in a lovely historic neighborhood. But I shopped at nearby Kroger that had a heavy African-American customer base. The difference from an affluent suburban store was startling, the quality and selection lower, the service poorer. It was "just business."
The outcome in Flint, poisoning the population by switching its water supply to a river that had run past manufacturing plants for a century, was "just business."
Government is not business, certainly not business as it is run today. But with Republicans occupying a historic high of 31 governorships, we can expect more Flints. Maybe soon on the national level.