Brian Dickerson: We’re all lab rats in Matty Moroun’s grand experiment

By Brian Dickerson
Detroit Free Press Columnist

Matty Moroun doesn’t just think Michigan voters are stupid; he’s certain we are.

How else to explain the tens of millions of dollars the Ambassador Bridge owner has wagered on his conviction that Michiganders will believe any lie he tells us if he simply repeats it often enough, via the earnest testimonials of a diverse-enough cast of paid actors, between now and Nov. 6?

Broadcast it often enough, Moroun believes, and you can convince at least 51% of the electorate that up is down, that black is white, or that a vote to scuttle construction of a publicly owned bridge between Detroit and Windsor will magically generate money for new textbooks, new police cars and higher teacher salaries.

The closer we get to Election Day, the surer Moroun is that he’s put his money — $5 million in just 48 hours this week, according to a new Free Press report — on a sure thing.

Because make no mistake, this is more than a political campaign. It’s a massive, lavishly financed social experiment to define the outer limits of disinformation.

Moroun’s funding the study; the rest of us are merely his laboratory rats.

Now, I know some of you are wondering: Where’s the harm?

It’s not as though there’s any mystery about who’s bankrolling those ubiquitous ads for Proposal 6, or what his motives are.

And it’s Moroun’s money, isn’t it? So who cares whether he’s prepared to wager $5 million, $50 million, or even $500 million to horsewhip Proposal 6 across the finish line?

But I can promise you that a lot of people who don’t care a whit about preserving Moroun’s monopoly on North America’s busiest border crossing are watching his Proposal 6 campaign with keen interest, and doing their best to keep track of every nickel he spends on false advertising to promote it.

Because if Proposal 6 passes, those who’ve studied this campaign will have a pretty precise idea of what it costs, in dollars and cents, to convince Michigan’s masses that what’s good for one secretive family’s bottom line is somehow in everyone’s best interest.

Once he proves it can be done, manipulating Michigan’s public policy may become just another cost/benefit analysis for all sorts of private interests.

How much would it cost to convince voters to give a consortium of Mexican cartels an exclusive license to distribute heroin in Detroit? And if voters went along, how quickly could the cartels recover their money?

What would it cost to convince voters that every tax dollar spent regulating insurance companies — or electric utilities, or pharmacies, or nursing homes — is a dollar squandered, and how much would each of those industries be able to boost their profits in the absence of government oversight?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. But if Proposal 6 succeeds, I can promise you that people with quantitative analysis skills a lot more sophisticated than mine will be crunching the numbers come Nov. 7.