Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rush-ing to judgment: National commentators don't understand Detroit's plight

From Laura Berman at the Detroit News. I happened to be channel surfing the AM radio in rural Ohio while on the way to Buffalo and got to hear the great Rush Limbaugh make fun of my town and the people who live there. He makes millions off of the pain and misfortune of others. Is this really the Republican way? If so, I want no part of it.

Rush-ing to judgment: National commentators don't understand Detroit's plight

They came in droves.

By 10 a.m. Wednesday, Cobo Center was drawing a bigger crowd than you could squeeze into Comerica Park for a free Eminem concert.

All that was in the air was a whiff of hope -- the promise of help -- and that hope drew tens of thousands, so many people that 150 police officers arrived on the scene to contain people. There was jostling, minor injuries and the frenzy of a crowd excited about rumored promises that weren't going to be delivered.

What was just as predictable as Detroit's chaotic botched application process for Detroiters seeking access to federal stimulus dollars was the national and international response: Laughter.

Nobody laughs at Indonesians buried under rubble. They don't sneer at hurricane victims whose houses float away. But to the media conservatives who feed on the despair of the poor, Detroit's economic Katrina is an opportunity to stir up the rabble. In this week's case, it created a rush to Google and YouTube and provided fodder for fringe hate groups.

"Detroit's Model Citizens Line Up for Money from Obama's 'Stash' " is the way Rush Limbaugh's Web site headlined a story about the stampede for grant applications at Cobo. Two breathless days of commentary were devoted to the appalling greed of broke Detroiters. He also nationally aired WJR-AM's (950) onsite interview with a Detroit woman who explained she'd come to Cobo for "Obama money."

"Where did he get it?" asks WJR reporter Ken Rogulski.

"I don't know, his stash," the woman responds. "I don't know where he got it from, but he's giving it to us, to help us."

She added: "We love him. That's why we voted for him."

How did this woman's anticipation and excitement become a trigger for ridicule? For contempt and loathing?

From that brief exchange, Limbaugh extracted a wealth of knowledge about this anonymous woman. He went on to describe her as "dumb, uninformed, shockingly, saddeningly stupid, the model citizen for Barack Obama."

The truth is that her answer wasn't stupid: She believed she had a chance to qualify for assistance from the federal government. She received an application.

But she said, "Obama money," a phrase that he uses to then disparage the entire mass of people in attendance, people he assumes lack all good qualities, from work ethic to intelligence to education. Those are qualities he and his audience apparently share automatically, by virtue of their enjoying of his program and their shared ability to sneer at desperation.

This spirit -- of denunciation and contempt for poor, black people -- has been picked up by white supremacist sites that are unapologetically and openly racist.

Big surprise.

If Limbaugh came to Metro Detroit, he could visit virtually any street in any suburb and find unemployed engineers and teachers and executives who would happily walk to city hall for legally available grant money.

He could find hard-working, well-educated white people who have lost their jobs and whose seemingly guaranteed futures -- the reward for all those years of enterprise -- just ran out of warranty.

Why not sneer at them? Because most of them might become "us" at any moment? Because "we" need a "them" to keep the yawning abyss at bay?

I don't know WJR's hopeful woman whose sin is admitting on-air that she "loves" Obama. He's a United States president who signed a bill, passed by Congress, that may help her pay rent and utilities for a few months, assuming she qualifies for Detroit's $15.2 million share of $1.2 billion in grant money being doled out to 535 communities.

"The large number of people seeking to apply for this program demonstrates the breadth of the recession here in Detroit, and in the region," said a statement released by the mayor's office Friday.

Beyond her big moment, this woman is unlikely to receive a piece of the grant money: Only about 3,400 Detroit residents will get assistance. Already, the city has received 25,000 applications.

Everyone's had their fun at the expense of an impoverished city and a woman whose enthusiasm eclipsed her common sense.

Still, would a white woman's need seem quite so funny? Would Rush and Glenn Beck and the far-right-race-supremacists lagging just behind still leap to insult?

Poverty and despair aren't funny, of course. But hope? In Detroit?

Now, that's a hoot.

Laura Berman's column runs Tuesday and Thursday in Metro and Sunday online. Reach her at or (313) 222-2032


Paula Light said...

But it's never about racism with the right, noooooooooo.

Tim said...

Paula- In 2003 I was in New Orleans and really admired what a beautiful city it was. I went back a year ago and although the French Quarter was unchanged I took a drive through the neighborhoods and saw block after block of destroyed homes with boraded up windows, rusted cars with no tires on them, knocked over street lighting, etc. My first thought was "wow, this place has become Detroit overnight". You see, that's what 2/3's of Detroit has looked like for years. And yet the Federal government has poured in 20 billion dollars into rebuilding New Orleans in the last few years.
Detroit has been hit by a Republican hurricane. When they talk of starving the beast in Washington they must be talking about my city and state (Michigan, like California, sending more money to Washington than the cry baby Red States that always whine about being overtaxed). 2/3's of our city's land is nothing but burnt up, vacant buildings. Boston and San Francisco could both fit into the vacant area of Detroit. What revenue Detroit gets back from Washington is miniscule compared to what we spend in Iraq. What are we supposed to do? Just all pack up and move out west or down south? Away from parents and grandparents? We don't want pity, but we sure don't need Rush Limbaugh and Time magazine telling us how we are all a bunch of lazy loafers looking for a handout.

Joe the Troll said...

Your comment about taxes is apt. According to this info-

- California and Michigan are both states that send more to Washington than they get back. Yet people in states where that's not true (like my friend in Kentucky) will pretend that he's supporting THEM.

(My verification is "ralfasms." I've never had a ralfasm, and I hope I never do.)

Joe the Troll said...

Elementary mathematics tells us that when a state receives less than it pays to the feds every year, it isn't a "handout" when they get something back, it's a REFUND. They've been paying out more than they get and then they have to pay out for their own state, too, while the feds take their money and send it to Kentucky or S. Carolina or Iowa. In some cases, this is justified - NM, for example, gets a lot more back than it sends because it has a lower population (and thus a lower tax base) and a LOT of military bases, not to mention 2 federal laboratories and the world's biggest nuclear cache. We do the nation's business here.

Still, there is nothing improper about the people who have been paying more than their share of the bill during the good times getting some of their own money back during the bad. For the same reason, I won't complain if California gets some, too - those commie liberals out there pony up more than their share for America, too. The two states are in the same boat, essentially.

Paula Light said...

Good point, Joe. Calif, New York, and other "blue" states contribute a lot more federal taxes than many "red" states, despite all the howling by conservatives that liberals are stealing their money.

O' Tim said...

It’s tough keeping up with the right’s latest panic du jour. How do they have time to spend with their families? Perhaps they bring the kids along to “The Meetings” so they also can learn to live forever on edge.

Being in a perpetual state of red alert has to be exhausting and stress-inducing. It’s no wonder so many conservatives have nasty dispositions. I’d bet my last nickel they have shorter life spans, too (in which case, keep up the great work, Glen Beck!).

Sadly for them, a huge chunk of what gets their freakout flag flying turns out to be bullshit. But what a wicked web they weave. During the campaign it was full-on “Barack’s a COMMIE” mode, and I can’t help wondering - do they ever think before running off at the mouth? Some guy from Mississippi griping about the “redistribution of wealth” is like Chuck Norris criticizing someone for their dye job.

O' Tim said...

I rigret that Blogger allows commenters to dileet there own posts, Tim. Having everything here permanintly would prove your point (and several others) for posterity.