Welcome to Fantasyland. After decades of one-party rule, extreme fiscal mismanagement and urban rot, the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy late last week -- the largest such municipal failure in US history. Statistics tell the depressing story, a few of which Mark Steyn recapitulated in his weekend column:
By the time Detroit declared bankruptcy, Americans were so inured to the throbbing dirge of Motown’s Greatest Hits — 40 percent of its streetlamps don’t work; 210 of its 317 public parks have been permanently closed; it takes an hour for police to respond to a 9-1-1 call; only a third of its ambulances are driveable; one-third of the city has been abandoned; the local realtor offers houses on sale for a buck and still finds no takers; etc., etc. — Americans were so inured that the formal confirmation of a great city’s downfall was greeted with little more than a fatalistic shrug. But it shouldn’t be. To achieve this level of devastation, you usually have to be invaded by a foreign power. In the War of 1812, when Detroit was taken by a remarkably small number of British troops without a shot being fired, Michigan’s Governor Hull was said to have been panicked into surrender after drinking heavily. Two centuries later, after an almighty 50-year bender, the city surrendered to itself...the physical decay of Detroit — the vacant and derelict lots for block after block after block — is as nothing compared to the decay of the city’s human capital. Forty-seven percent of adults are functionally illiterate, which is about the same rate as the Central African Republic, which at least has the excuse that it was ruled throughout the Seventies by a cannibal emperor...
One of Detroit's functionally illiterate citizens is the now-former president of its city school board. Otis Mathis got into hot water for fondling himself during a public meeting several years ago, but was defended by one of his fellow board members as a naive young man who didn't understand that such things were frowned upon. Mathis was 55 at the time. Detroit's most recent mayor sits in prison for corruption, and (until recently), so did a high-profile member of his city council -- who happens to be married to a Congressman. All of these officials belong to one party. Many of Detroit's woes stem from wild, unsustainable promises made to the city's bloated government sector. These pension and healthcare obligations sapped Detroit of its waning vigor, while upper, middle, and even working-class residents fled. Today, the fiscal imbalance is more acute than ever. The Detroit Free Press reports: "Employee contributions can’t keep pace with the needs of current pension recipients. The city has just 9,700 workers but 21,000 retirees drawing benefits." For years, Detroit's leaders have lined their own pockets, raised taxes to the maximum allowed limit, spent profligately on horrendously under-performing municipal services, and chased away their tax base. The city is a Statist hell; $18.5 billion in debt, with nowhere to turn but bankruptcy. Late last week, a partisan elected judge -- I'll let you guess her party affiliation -- temporarily blocked the inevitable proceedings, arguing that Detroit's bankruptcy violates the Michigan constitution. In what ways, pray tell?
The judge said state law guards against retirement benefits being “diminished,” but there will be no such protection in federal bankruptcy court...Prior to her ruling on Friday, the judge criticized the Snyder administration and Schuette’s office over their hasty move. “It’s cheating, sir, and it’s cheating good people who work,” the judge told assistant state Attorney General Brian Devlin. “It’s also not honoring the (United States) president, who took (Detroit’s auto companies) out of bankruptcy."
Ah yes, the oft-overlooked "Thou Shalt Honor Thy President" clause of the state constitution. Setting aside her eye-popping quote, the judge ruled that the law prohibits making any changes to the very cause of the city's problems. Absolute, unalloyed dysfunction. Against this tragic backdrop, conservatives have been pointing to Detroit as an object lesson in the abject failure of liberal economic policies. A "teachable moment," as the president likes to say. Liberalism is dressed up as a compassionate ideology that "helps the poor" and makes everything more "fair." Yet full-stop liberalism has decimated this once-great city (and is wreaking havoc in other prominent precincts, too). Powerful, exploitive liberals have enriched themselves with little regard for the well-being of the people they're supposed to serve; namely, those who are too destitute to escape the city's vortex of failure and decay. Jokingly anticipating the outlandish lefty spin that the Detroit disaster is somehow the fault of a political party that has held no sway there for decades, I tweeted this bit of sarcasm on Thursday:
Detroit would be a glittering success today if not for the unprecedented Republican obstructionism.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) July 18, 2013
By Friday, apologists like Matt Yglesias and Dave Weigel were hard at work spinning away Detroit's demise as something other than clear evidence that their beloved Democrats had failed. Not to be out-hacked, MSNBC's hosts ratcheted up the incoherence to heretofore unseen levels. Bulletin: The fall of deep blue Detroit, ladies and gentlemen, is Republicans' fault. Melissa Harris-Perry (who wore tampon earrings during Sunday's telecast to protest Texas' popular new law limiting late-term abortions) got the anti-evidence party rolling with this verbatim quote:
it seems to me that Detroit, as always, is standing for all kinds of things about America. In the case of Detroit, the reason that the tax base has become so small is because a loss of population, right? So folks out, they are not there to pay the taxes on the homes and the kind of deterioration is what you see in the numbers you’ve suggested. But this lack of tax base is also exactly the kind of thing that many Republicans would impose on us, even when our cities have sufficient populations, even when our communities have sufficient populations. This is what it looks like when government is small enough to drown in your bathtub, and it is not a pretty picture.
Ms. Harris-Perry evidently believes that Republicans are opposed to broadening the tax base, and the Detroit collapsed because of small government. The ignorance astounds. The mind reels. Erika Johnson incredulously asks, "is this real life?" In the through-the-looking-glass world of MSNBC, it sure is. Just in case the real villain in this story hadn't been made clear to viewers, Ed Schultz piled on with more hilarious nonsense. Did you know Detroit is a "conservative utopia"? Well now you do:
The best part of this clip is the OTS graphic depicting the evil triumverate behind Detroit's financial distress: Gov. Rick Snyder, Mitt Romney...and Ronald Reagan. Schultz laments the outsourcing of jobs, yet in the same breath denounces Snyder -- who recently signed a pro-jobs Right to Work bill into law. Jobs and human capital have been bleeding out of Detroit for decades due to a toxic brew of high taxes, terrible governance, excessive regulation, and unsustainable union demands. Republicans are the ones fighting each and every one of those symptoms, yet Big Ed puts on a brave face and sticks it to the Gipper. Intellectually bankrupt analysis on a morally bankrupt network about a literally bankrupt city. How appropriate. By the way, if Ed's all about backing up his Big Labor buddies, why isn't he inveighing against Obamacare?
UPDATE - MSNBC's gyrations would be the equivalent of conservatives blaming the hypothetical fiscal collapse of ruby red Utah on Democrats. As it happens, Utah -- with its Republican governor and super-majority Republican legislature -- has gained in population decade-over-decade and enjoys a sizable budget surplus. Detroit it is not.