During the 2012 election, President Obama ruthlessly attacked Gov. Mitt Romney for his 2008 New York Times op-ed on restructuring the American auto industry. The piece, titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” (a headline that was written by editors at the Times, not Romney) gave the Obama campaign fodder to unfairly paint the former Massachusetts governor as somebody who had lost touch with the struggles facing the city that he was born and grew up in.
Obama gladly perpetuated the myth that Romney was a heartless businessman who wanted the city to fail. The president portrayed himself as a hero who, unlike the villainous Romney, wouldn’t let Detroit go under.
Less than a year later the president is getting a well-deserved dose of Karma. Despite his reelection promise, Detroit has filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection – although that move is being challenged in court — and is facing a very difficult path to recovery.
Voters of any political stripe can agree that what’s happened to Motown is an American tragedy. But Detroit’s unfortunate fate also presents Republicans with an opportunity to expose the failure of the president’s big government agenda.
While the city’s bankruptcy and the restructuring of the auto industry are two different issues, most voters will only remember Obama’s repeated pledges to not let Detroit go bankrupt. These 2012 sound bites will be juxtaposed with reports of Detroit’s current situation. This can remind voters that Obama has been more about empty rhetoric than actual results.
But more importantly, Detroit’s decline can be used by Republicans to demonstrate the obvious and inexorable consequences of Democratic policies. After decades of one-party dominance, Detroit collapsed because of wildly irresponsible fiscal mismanagement that left the city with $18 billion in unfunded liabilities. Despite decades of warning signs, Democrats continued to raise taxes, increase government intervention, refused to address entitlement reform and turned a blind eye to rampant public corruption. Worst of all, they repeatedly kowtowed to the demands of the powerful unions that supported their campaigns.
Detroit, Republicans can tell voters, is what the future could look like for many more American cities if Democrats implement the same policies in state houses and city halls across the country. They can provide a vision of what our country could look like if Democrats take back the House, elect more senators and allow the president to freely implement his liberal agenda. Republicans can also provide a contrasting set of policies that will empower the private sector and rein in excessive government to avoid a repeat of Detroit’s fate.
Nobody should be celebrating what has happened to Detroit. However, the painfully obvious results of the liberal policies that ran this once vibrant city into the ground can be used to make the case for electing more fiscally responsible candidates in 2014.
Ryan Williams is a Republican communications consultant who formally served as a spokesman for Govs. Mitt Romney and John Sununu.