Senator Carl Levin in Mount Pleasant
Senator Carl Levin, the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, this morning (February 19). In case you have just returned from vacationing on Mars, Senator Levin is the person who is leading the charge in the Senate to hold the Bush administration accountable for the debacle in Iraq. He is an equally powerful force in Democratic efforts to bring our troops home.
Levin took his seat as a Senator in 1979, which meant that several of the people he addressed today had not been born when he first went to Washington. So for them, he was living history.
Among his listeners were a teenage girl and her mother, neither of whom had any prior experience with politics: they were just curious about who he was and what he was like. What did they see, and what did they hear as the man in the picture stood next to their table and addressed his audience?
Levin is an unpretentious man to has spent most of his adult life in the Senate. He spoke clearly and with a quiet passion as he described his efforts to use his experience and seniority to find his way through the labyrinth of Senate politics to extricate our country from Iraq. He has a sense of humor and is able to laugh at his own foibles as he skews his political opponents and the ideologues who parade their egos through the halls of Congress.
Levin was challenged on his “no” vote on CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standard.* He explained why he thinks the entire standard should be changed in a way that would actually greatly reduce CO2 emissions and put the American auto manufacturers on an equal footing with foreign competitors. For me, it was an eye-opening experience both for the alternative his proposed and for the simple manner in which he stated his objectives.
So, what did the mother and her daughter see and hear today? In truth, only they can say. I saw and heard a man who has served Michigan and his country most of his adult life. I saw a man who has finally reached a position of influence that he uses wisely and for the common good. I saw the man who is, and who will continue to be in 2008, the senior Senator from Michigan.
*This is the legislation that requires that the “fleet” of cars and trucks produced by one company (for example, all the models that GM makes) to have an average mpg (miles per gallon) rating by a certain date.The current rating process works like this: Each year, GM (or any other auto maker) provides one example of each model of car or truck it makes for testing by a government agency. This “fleet” includes the big gas-guzzlers and also the small, high mileage vehicle that might not sell well, but that is really not GM’s concern: it’s in the fleet because it skews the average upward.
Levin pointed out that the new legislation would actually allow Toyota to sell bigger vehicles than American producers because all of Toyota’s vehicles have better gas mileage. Unfortunately, American automakers have hung their financial futures on sales of big cars and trucks which means they would lose their market niche.
Instead, Levin believes that it would be better to move away from the “fleet” model to a “line” model: for example, set standards for all trucks of a certain size made by all producers.