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The Left’s Evolving Blame Game on Detroit

The Sunday morning political shows got the most attention this week for what appeared to be the collective effort to bury the candidacy of Anthony Weiner. But there was a far more interesting debate over the future of Detroit between George Will and Steven Rattner on This Week. Rattner had earlier published a column in the New York Times that argued for government intervention to bail out the city of Detroit, which has been bankrupted by health and retirement liabilities and corrupt mismanagement.

Rattner had argued that “apart from voting in elections, the 700,000 remaining residents of the Motor City are no more responsible for Detroit’s problems than were the victims of Hurricane Sandy for theirs, and eventually Congress decided to help them.” Will referenced that comment Sunday morning, reminding Rattner that those votes went for “60 years of incompetence, malcontents, and in some cases criminals.” He argued that Detroit had experienced a “cultural collapse” and is now reckoning with the consequences of their decisions. Rattner, in an illuminating and noteworthy response, said:

So that’s fine. And so what do you want to do, do you want to leave them sitting in exactly the situation you just described, or in the spirit of America trying to help people who are less fortunate, whether their (sic) victims of natural disasters or their own ignorance or whatever, do you want to reach out and try to help them and try to reinvent Detroit for not a lot of money. We’re talking about a couple billion dollars here, this is small potatoes in the great scheme of life, or else you have your scenario, just leave them all sit (sic) with feral dogs for the rest of their lives.

This is significant because it makes clear that the left will not see Detroit as evidence of the need for fiscal sanity. Even after liberal policies drive a major U.S. city to bankruptcy and collapse, the left will argue not only that the city should be bailed out by taxpayers but that it’s really a minor incident–just a couple billion dollars, which is, in Rattner’s words, “not a lot of money.” To do otherwise, Rattner says, would not be “in the spirit of America.”

So there you have it. Liberals will argue that it is imperative to promise unaffordable pension and health benefits to government workers, and once that predictably ends in financial ruin, that it isn’t in the “spirit of America” not to fork over billions more. At no point is a consideration for sustainable economic policymaking introduced into the process.

But there’s another element to this evident in Rattner’s remarks: the question of victimhood and culpability. This was more fully fleshed out in a Salon column published on Saturday. The column, by Andrew O’Hehir, follows the classic model of blaming racism (real and imagined) for Detroit’s woes. O’Hehir is “tempted” to offer an alternative theory for the collapse of Detroit, which is probably the most ridiculous thing yet written about the Motor City’s financial meltdown:

As payback for the worldwide revolution symbolized by hot jazz, Smokey Robinson dancin’ to keep from cryin’ and Eminem trading verses with Rihanna, New Orleans and Detroit had to be punished. Specifically, they had to be isolated, impoverished and almost literally destroyed, so they could be held up as examples of what happens when black people are allowed to govern themselves.

It’s unconscious, he believes, as he assures readers he is no conspiracy theorist. Most of O’Hehir’s column was ignored because of the sheer effort and self-discipline required to read beyond that paragraph which, for racial thinking, may have even surpassed Timothy Noah’s classic column classifying the Wall Street Journal’s discussion of President Obama’s skinniness as “a coded discussion of race.”

But O’Hehir’s linking of Detroit’s collapse and Hurricane Katrina is instructive. In the column, he reviews several causes of Detroit’s bankruptcy, including that “investment capital flowed away from the Rust Belt and into low-tax, non-union jurisdictions in the Sun Belt and around the world.” Later, he repeats that the city’s residents “have already been victimized by several generations of high crime and failing services and the flight of capital.” He closes by asking what the rest of the world thinks “when they see country-club denizens of the leafy suburbs a few miles away, most of them people who grew up in Detroit and made their fortunes there, angrily protest that they have no common interest with the inhabitants of the city and no responsibility for their plight?”

Beyond the ridiculous accusations of racial animus lies a belief commonly held on the left: the rest of the country should pay to bail out Detroit, because this is (at least partly) their fault. That is, those who choose to govern themselves more responsibly and successfully than Detroit have helped cause Detroit’s collapse because if they didn’t create sustainable communities the people and businesses fleeing Detroit would have no where to go.


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