O in The D: MIA

by Henry Payne

Detroit — It has been a murderous summer in Detroit, with some 254 shootings and 52 dead. But Pres. Barack Obama’s Labor Day speech here had no time for citizens under siege. This visit was about politics. The president’s choice of Motown as a backdrop was meant to highlight what appears to be a national success story: the renewal of Detroit in the wake of his administration’s managed bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler. 

In truth, however, Detroit represents the greatest failure of this president.

Determined to transform America into a green, centrally planned state, Obama has an agenda that is too utopian. Trying to graft European democratic socialism onto American individualism was always a Frankenstein-like proposition. The result is a mess, with America more politically divided than ever, and its mighty economic engine crippled under heavy-handed regulation and misguided spending.

Had Obama instead focused on simply transforming America’s inner cities — Detroit is America’s poster child of urban dysfunction — he could have made a real difference in curing America’s most vexing problem: the permanent underclass.

Spare us presidents with Big Ideas. Give us leaders who understand the small fundamentals.

As America’s first black president, Obama had a unique opportunity to tackle the inner city’s chronic family failure by personally connecting with people to transform a culture of dependency. This high-profile family man could have taught by example the importance of family and job responsibility. Instead, Obama’s orgy of welfare spending has only exacerbated Detroit’s problems — helping doom a generation of black children to poverty.

Obama’s auto fairy tale never held water to begin with. As Dick Cheney reminds in his new autobiography, it was George W. Bush who first bailed out the auto industry (Cheney was opposed) before Obama came to power. Indeed, Obama then used Washington’s involvement to corrupt the bankruptcy process by stripping bondholders of their legal rights and favoring Big Labor.

But the Detroit that Obama spoke of on Labor Day is a fiction. It is no longer synonymous with the storied middle class created by Big Auto’s high wages. That middle class, black and white, has fled to the suburbs — run out by crime and rotten schools caused by the implosion of the urban family.

That family collapse (echoed in lower-class families of all races) has created the pathologies that haunt urban Detroit: a 24 percent high-school-graduation rate, 49 percent adult illiteracy, 30 percent male incarceration rates, and 47 percent black teen unemployment.  

Barack Obama could have made a profound difference.

But he won’t, because these ills are the direct result of the Big Ideas of social engineers before him. As the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector has documented, the fall of the Detroit family came with the rise of the Great Society. With welfare programs from Medicaid paying for births to food and housing subsidies, government has replaced fathers in the home. Obama has overseen spending on these programs to record levels.

Without fathers, poverty inevitably follows. Indeed, the lack of a two-parent family, Rector notes, is the leading cause of poverty in America.

But instead of helping Detroit’s suffering children, the president seems aloof from their pain. He parachuted into this city’s sanitized, heavily securitized downtown square mile of corporate headquarters and Whole Foods markets — safe from the murderous streets of the city’s other 138 square miles that have claimed 250 lives already this year and put Detroit on the path for a staggering murder rate of 50 per 100,000 residents in 2011.

After his speech, the president was quickly swept back to 30,000 feet again to work on Big Ideas , his rock-star image unsullied by the bloody streets of Detroit.

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