Ann Arbor

Jon Cohn and Walter Kirn discuss Romney's talent for closing deals and what roles the candidates would play on Sesame Street.

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Editor's Note: After looking at the economic platform of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, this installment of our series on his policy plans examines the details of his health care agenda. The gist: Repeal the Affordable Care Act; end Medicare and Medicaid as we know it, by turning the former into a voucher program and the latter into a block grant scheme; unravel private insurance, by changing the tax treatment of benefits and undermining state regulation. The good. Not much. Once in a while he talks up worthwhile reforms designed to improve the quality of care.

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The purpose of President Obama's visit to the the University of Michigan on Friday was to promote the administration's new, and genuinely innovative, program for making college more affordable. But, along the way, Obama made a point about his own biography – and, implicitly, about Mitt Romney's: Michelle and I can still remember how long it took us to pay back our student loans. ... Your President and your First Lady were in your shoes not that long ago. We didn’t come from wealthy families.

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President Obama visits the Detroit area on Friday, and his timing couldn't be better: Today's Detroit Free Press brings more good news from the auto industry: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all plan to add jobs in Michigan, which stands to benefit more than any other state. Nissan, BMW, Honda, Toyota, Kia and Mercedes-Benz also are hiring. Suppliers are looking to add engineers and technical people, but at a more gradual pace. About 15,000 auto-related Michigan jobs could be created this year, said Sean McAlinden, economist at Ann Arbor's Center for Automotive Research.

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In 1965, when Carl Oglesby threw himself into the New Left—“the movement” was the more intimate term, meaning life-force, energy, motion—he was a 30-year-old paterfamilias with a wife and three small children, living in a nice little Ann Arbor house on (he relished the memory) Sunnyside Street, making a solid living as a technical editor-writer for a military-industrial think-tank called Bendix. He golfed, drove a snappy little sports car, wrote plays, and smoked good dope—a damn fine life for the son of an Akron rubber worker and the grandson of a coal miner.

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Ann Arbor, Michigan—Did Mitt Romney’s speech on health care satisfy his conservative detractors? Did it lay out a coherent alternative to the Affordable Care Act? These are important questions and I’ll get to them in a moment. But, first, let me tell you about my favorite moment of his presentation on Thursday. It happened near the end, after Romney was done with his PowerPoint slides and taking some questions from the audience. From the back of the auditorium, I couldn’t hear what was being asked.

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Tomorrow Mitt Romney ventures straight into the lion's den -- Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of Jonathan Cohn, where he will deliver a health care speech attempting to explain the unexplainable. Just as Luke Skywalker was bound to seek out and confront Darth Vader, Romney must confront Cohn. If Romney winds up bloodied, one hand sliced off and clinging to a weathervane with the other, he'll have done better than I expect. Romney's "Address To Jonathan Cohn And Fellow Ann Arborites"* will no doubt emphasize his federalist position.

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I realize that this two-minute Super Bowl spot is mostly Chrysler's attempt to use Detroit to brand itself and sell cars. But I think there's more to it -- a genuine attempt by the company to defend the city where it is based. As a native of the area I was actually a little moved watching this: Eminem is featured in the spot. I remember years ago, Ann Arbor native Bob Seger, who I believe did not do advertising, used his song "Like A Rock" in a truck commercial.

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Speaking at a health care reform rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, in July 2009, President Obama declared that the worst of the recession was over. “We have stopped the free-fall. The market is up and the financial system is no longer on the verge of collapse,” he said proudly. A year or so later, with midterm elections looming and an electorate that is as fearful and angry as any in memory, the stock market has risen, but even a breath of bad news can send it tumbling. As dismal as housing prices continue to be, they have yet to hit bottom in some places.

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Obama Goes Blue

President Obama is going to deliver the commencement address at my alma mater, the University of Michigan, on May first. The last sitting president (Bill Clinton did it six years after he left office) to do so was George H.W. Bush in 1991, the end of my freshman year. Embarrassing confession: when the news broke, some students printed up "We've Got Bush" t-shirts, and I bought one as a souvenir. I still have it. The reference is from a scene in the 1984 movie "Revenge of the Nerds": Looking back, one of the odd things about it was how little animosity existed toward the president.

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