Michael Barone's Essay On Detroit Would Be Useful If He Didn't Get So Much Wrong

June 24, 2013, 3:07 PM by  Bill McGraw


Michael Barone is a conservative pundit and author who grew up in Detroit and Birmingham and has degrees from Cranbrook, Harvard and Yale.

He is best known as the co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, a highly regarded reference work that is published  by National Journal. 

In his essay "Unheavenly City," in RealClearPolitics, Barone ostensibly reviews Charlie LeDuff's "American Autopsy," the biography of modern-day Detroit. Barone also describes his background in Detroit and his experience as an intern in the office of Mayor Jerry Cavanagh during the 1967 riot. 

And while he's at it, Barone helps readers understand why Detroit has become an unheavenly city. His villains? Liberal politicians. Imagine that.

"I blame the ambitious liberalism of the Cavanagh years, which I believed in at the time, and the 20-year rule of Coleman Young, mayor from 1973 to 1993," he writes.

Here are few of Barone's other nuggets (and brief responses):

Young "as mayor he disbanded the police department's stop-and-frisk unit." (That was the STRESS undercover decoy unit. It went far beyond stop and frisk: Its officers killed 17 black men, many under suspicious circumstances.)

Under Young, "crime soared and Devil's Night became a Detroit institution." (Crime was rising long before Young became mayor; murders peaked in his first year in office.)

Young's "economic strategy was to ally with the big auto companies and the UAW, just as their business model was undermined by foreign-based competitors." Young also fostered development with Henry Ford II, Max Fisher, Al Taubman and in a number of smaller ways, like trying to get city contracts to minorities.)

Young "got the Big Three automakers to finance the 70-story Renaissance Center, physically disconnected from the rest of downtown." (Wrong. Young's predecessor, Roman Gribbs did that. Young was mayor when the Ren Cen opened.)

Young "tore down a viable white neighborhood to make room for General Motors's Poletown plant." (It was actually a multi-racial and multi-ethnic area that, like many areas of Detroit, was caught in a downward spiral.)

The big problem: There is virtually no mention of the massive job drain that began in Detroit in the early 1950s and basically continues today. Barone notes -- accurately -- that Cavanagh instituted a city income tax. It was one of the first things he did as mayor, after taking over from a conservative, Louis Miriani, but Barone blames the tax move on liberal government. Many observers see the tax as a response to the revenue drain that confronted Cavanagh --  a revenue drain that originated in Detroit's loss of jobs during the 1950s.  

Other than that it's a fine essay.

Oh. Blaming Coleman Young for what's wrong with Detroit is what guys do who are drinking beer at backyard barbecues in Macomb Township. That line of reasoning is not worthy of a Washington pundit, even if he does appear on Fox News.

Also: Even his title isn't original. "The Unheavenly City" is the name of a 1968 book about the urban crisis by Edward Banfield.

You don't think Barone would have...nahhh.




Read more:  RealClearPolitics

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