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From the Detroit Insider:

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Detroit backers don't get it: Denial doesn't work anymore

By Daniel Howes / The Detroit News

Big bad John Engler swoops into town, tells the truth as he (and lots of other people) sees it and the predictable reaction is sputtering rage.

Or demands for an apology. Or finger pointing, mostly at him. Or the political equivalent of blaming the messenger. In those things, Detroit is still the national standard, even if most of its leaders struggle to muster the courage to face the reality of their economic predicament and act accordingly.

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's "promise ... hasn't been realized as mayor," Engler said Monday, adding that Kilpatrick "is saddled with the worst City Council in America."

I suspect I speak for many in and out of Detroit when I say: "Yes. And?"

Here's a mayor whose behavior routinely flouts the expectation of accountability that governs today's public officials; whose zeal for getting Detroit's sorry finances in order didn't emerge until election year; whose raw political skills lack good judgment and all that implies.

Here's a City Council whose reflexive mistrust of Kilpatrick, whose misunderstanding of economic truth and whose subservience to the power of municipal unions morph into petty micromanagement or inaction.

Engler is the Republican Detroiters love to loathe. But in the spirit of an old-fashioned journalism aphorism, he is "speaking truth to power" and power isn't taking it very well.

It's not just Engler who's giving Detroit a slap it arguably deserves. It's Rush Limbaugh using his national radio show to take shots at the city he calls "New Fallujah."

It's Wall Street labeling the debt of our two defining companies -- General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. -- "junk" and consigning them to also-ran status. It's the chairman of Toyota Motor Corp. offering to "help" Detroit by raising prices and offering to sell them gas-electric hybrid powertrains.

It's President Bush addressing workers at a Nissan plant in Mississippi and then posing for photos in front of one of their Titan pickups. If that doesn't illustrate the new American political reality -- and we're not in it -- what does?

These slams aren't happening because partisan outsiders "don't get" what's going on in Detroit, or in Michigan, or in the domestic auto industry. They're happening because smart people do "get" what is happening here. Their conclusions aren't favorable because the facts aren't, either.

Like water, economic reality finds its level. For decades, the city of Detroit's leaders acted as though the steady migration of residents to the suburbs, an eroding tax base, bad schools and a comparatively large union work force with rich benefits could exist outside that reality.

They can't any more than the leaders of Detroit's automakers could misjudge their competition, misread their home market, steadily lose market share, agree to generous, inviolable deals with autoworkers and yet expect to prosper in spite of it all.

If only. Outside perception -- offensive, galling, maddening perception -- is simply matching an economic reality that has grown harsher over time. Denial doesn't work anymore because reality right here, right now is so undeniable.
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