Santorum’s Gospel of Inequality
By Charles M. Blow
New York Times
February 17, 2012
That was Fox News’s headline about Rick Santorum’s speech at the Detroit Economic Club on Thursday. Santorum said, “I’m not about equality of result when it comes to income inequality. There is income inequality in America. There always has been and, hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be.”
Unbelievable. Maybe not, but stunning all the same.
Then again, Santorum is becoming increasingly unhinged in his public comments. Last week, he said that the president was arguing that Catholics would have to “hire women priests to comply with employment discrimination issues.”
Also last week, he suggested that liberals and the president were leading religious people into oppression and even beheadings. I kid you not. Santorum said: “They are taking faith and crushing it. Why? When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what’s left is the French Revolution. What’s left is a government that gives you rights. What’s left are no unalienable rights. What’s left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. What’s left in France became the guillotine.”
Yet for Santorum to champion income inequality in Detroit, of all places, is still incredibly tone-deaf.
Detroit has the highest poverty rate of any big city in America, according to data provided by Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College. Among the more than 70 cities with populations over 250,000, Detroit’s poverty rate topped the list at a whopping 37.6 percent, more than twice the national poverty rate. And according to the Census Bureau, median household income in Detroit from 2006-10 was just $28,357, which was only 55 percent of the overall U.S. median household income over that time.
This is a city that last year announced plans to close half its public schools and send layoff notices to every teacher in the system.
This is a city where the mayor’s pledge to demolish 10,000 abandoned structures was seen as only shaving the tip of the iceberg because, as The Wall Street Journal reported in 2010, “the city has roughly 90,000 abandoned or vacant homes and residential lots, according to Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit that tracks demographic data for the city.”
This is not the place to praise income inequality. Last week, at a hearing before the Senate Budget Committee, Kent Conrad, the chairman of that committee, laid out the issue as many Americans see it:
“The growing gap between the very wealthy and everyone else has serious ramifications for the country. It hinders economic growth, it undermines confidence in our institutions, and it goes against one of the core ideals of this country — that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed and leave a better future for your kids and your grandkids.”
This is arguably even more true of people in Michigan than for the rest of us. Even though income inequality in the Detroit area isn’t particularly high, looking at the issue as an urban one in the case of cities like Detroit is problematic. The whole region took a hit. The comparison for cities like Detroit may be more intra-city than inter-city.
As Willy Staley argued in 2010 in an online column for Next American City magazine: “In richer cities, the inequality is put side-by-side, in an uncomfortable, loathsome way; for cities left in the dust of deindustrialization, the inequality is presents (sic) as existing between cities, not within them. Gone is the city/suburb divide between rich and poor, income inequality manifests itself within wealthy cities and between cities.”
And it is this feeling of being left behind by the American economy and abandoned by Republicans that is pushing Michigan into the blue. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling company, found this week that Obama would handily defeat all the Republican candidates in head-to-head matchups in the state. The company’s president, Dean Debnam, said in a statement: “Michigan is looking less and less like it will be in the swing state column this fall.” He continued, “Barack Obama’s numbers in the state are improving, while the Republican field is heading in the other direction.”
Santorum went on to say about income inequality during his speech on Thursday: “We should celebrate like we do in the small towns all across America — as you do here in Detroit. You celebrate success. You build statues and monuments. Buildings, you name after them. Why? Because in their greatness and innovation, yes, they created wealth, but they created wealth for everybody else. And that’s a good thing, not something to be condemned in America.”
Santorum might want to take a walk around Detroit to see who’s celebrating and to see how many statues he can find to honor people who simply invented something and got rich.
Furthermore, as a newspaperman and a former Detroiter, I’d like to direct him to the James J. Brady Memorial. Detroit1701.org, maintained by a University of Michigan emeritus professor, calls it “one of the more attractive memorials in Detroit.” It pays tribute to Brady, a federal tax collector, who set out to address the issue of child poverty in the city by founding the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellows of Detroit Fund in 1914 — what is essentially a local welfare fund.
The group provides “warm clothing, toys, books, games and candy” to local children every Christmas in addition to sending poor children to summer camps, the dentist and to college.
Then again, charitable giving doesn’t appear to be high on Motor Mouth Santorum’s list of priorities. As The Washington Post pointed out, based on Santorum’s tax return disclosure this week, he has given the least amount to charity of the four presidential candidates who have disclosed their tax returns. (Ron Paul has not.) His charitable giving was just 1.8 percent of his adjusted gross income.
The Obamas were the highest, giving 14.2 percent, even though their income was second lowest.
Maybe that’s the imbalance we should praise.