Glenn Beck offers a simplistic view of Detroit's decline

| Monday, March 7, 2011
| |

When I moved to metro Detroit nearly 25 years ago, many suburbanites were blaming Detroit's woes on just one man: Mayor Coleman Young.

In his inaugural speech in 1974, Young told the city's criminals to "hit Eight Mile Road," the city's northern boundary. Many suburban whites misinterpreted that directive to mean Young wanted Detroit's drug dealers and muggers to terrorize their neighborhoods. Young's relationship with the 'burbs never recovered.

Now that Young, who died in 1997, is gone, Detroit haters have a bigger scapegoat: liberals. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck, who compared Detroit to bombed-out Hiroshima, said Motown's decline is a result of failed progressive policies. And he tossed in "corrupt government and unions" and auto companies that "weren't allowed to fail" for good measure.

Beck, who may be in danger of being swallowed by the increasingly bleak world he's created, as the New York Times' David Carr wrote today, isn't the only one who thinks the liberals ruined Detroit. It's a view often expressed by anonymous online commenters on news stories about Detroit. And I hear it occasionally from my conservative friends.

There's no question that Detroit has serious problems and that liberals share some of the blame, as Detroit Free Press editorial page editor Stephen Henderson wrote.

But so do many others. You could write a book about the reasons for Detroit's decline, which started around 1950. And quite a few people have.

Here's my question: If liberalism was responsible for Detroit's destruction, how does Beck explain the vibrancy and attractiveness (especially for young people) of New York, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco--all cities with a history of progressive politicians, strong unions and government corruption?

Hiroshima was nearly destroyed during World War II when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on it. But Beck said Hisoshima recovered because it "embraced the free market system and the entrepreneurial spirit." (I suppose it's easier to be filled with the entrepreneurial spirit when you have to rebuild your city from the ground up.)

Beck likely would be distressed to learn that Young, a former union organizer, was embraced in his effort to rebuild Detroit after the 1967 riots by some of the most prominent businessmen and free-market Republicans in the country--Henry Ford II, Al Taubman and Max Fisher among them.

And it was progressive policies on the federal level that did much harm to Detroit. Among them were the urban renewal programs of the 1960s and the interstate highway system, spawned by the administration of that bleeding heart liberal, President Dwight Eisenhower.

The freeways that cut through Detroit destroyed neighborhoods made it easier for businesses and residents to locate outside the city as America embraced suburban living.

Detroit has experienced its share of corruption, most recently in the looting of the city by past Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his cronies. But Kilpatrick was enabled by a business community that was dazzled by his political charms.

Last-minute campaign contributions from conservative Republican business leaders helped Kilpatrick pull out a narrow re-election win over Freman Hendricks in the 2005 mayoral contest.

Detroit's automakers (and other manufacturers) played a huge role in Detroit's decline by moving their plants to low-wage southern states. That left an entire generation of poorly educated workers who were unable to find good jobs elsewhere in the city.

But Beck's suggestion that General Motors and Chrysler should have been allowed to fail is laughable. Had that happened, Detroit would have really looked like post-war Hiroshima. And so would have much of Michigan.

1 comment:

Oliver said...

In all of the statements made by both sides, no one has addressed the real issue. The cars that Detroit designs/makes are garbage. Sure there are a few stars in the line up, but for the most part the US auto makers have failed to design new and inspiring vehicles. Poor design, poor style and poor vision has put Detroit where it is. Oh yeah, poor workmanship as well.
If you want to see the automakers succeed, they need new leadership that doesn't continue to build my grandfathers car. Perhaps Detroit needs to move to Silcon Valley.

Post a Comment