Oh, ouch. That was a liberal ouch, by the way. Even as a liberal, I can see this as the Next Bad Idea snouting its way up over the far horizon: telling the suburbs they have to bail out the cities.
Ain't ... gonna ... happen.
David Firestone, a young hotshot reporter in Dallas back in the day, now a mature if not yet senior writer for The New York Times, has a fascinating, depressing piece on the op-ed page of the Times today about my own alma mater (his, too, if memory serves) -- the city of Detroit. When I read these things about the Motor City, I get survivor syndrome: Why did I deserve to leave Detroit when others never made it out?
Oh, my God. Detroit is just so screwed, glued, tattooed and utterly un-renewed when you take a hard look. Firestone recounts how the auto industry bailout has done zip for the city, because hardly any of the industry is left in the city.
So beleaguered is Detroit by population loss and the critical hemorrhaging of its tax-base that the state of Michigan may have to appoint an "emergency manager" with powers to bust unions, fire officials and sell off municipal assets.
When I talk about the Next Bad Idea, that's not what I mean. It's this, at the conclusion of Firestone's piece:
"The solution may be in the suburbs that have siphoned off Detroit's money and jobs and talent for decades. A true emergency manager, as many people here have suggested, would have the power to begin merging the tax base of the city with that of suburban counties in hopes of saving the region. Bailouts can come in many different forms."
The moral political spine of this idea is the notion that the migration of vibrancy from city to suburb is something suburbs did to cities, and now this act of aggression must be redressed by some kind of fiat forcing the 'burbs to pay back their debt.
Listen, I get exactly where all of that come from. It's mainly an echo of white flight -- a memory owned by an increasingly narrow slice of the populace, most of whom are soon to be in nursing lah-lah-land anyway.
As long as we're reaching back to yesteryear, however, we might as well also talk about cross-district school busing to achieve integration, the last time I can remember anybody ever tried to put a theory of suburban obligation into political motion.
It never got off the ground. We did do a lot of race-based busing in this country, but not across districts. Texas, of all places, has twisted itself in knots shipping school finance money back and forth all over the map to comply with equity-based court orders, at the heart of which has been de-seg.
But telling the 'burbs they actually have to lean back into the city and own that mess? Nah. That was always the rock too big to roll. And at some point, even a libtard like me has to confront the possibility that maybe that rock just wasn't meant to roll.
We do have to have a healthy competition of alternatives in this country if we're to believe that we still have freedom, and in order to have competition, the scores have to count.
If people see a better world across the line, at some point they have to figure out how to cross that line and get into it. I don't know about your family history, but in my family I think we might still be on our knees digging tuber crops and giving the virginity of our daughters to the Margrave of the Saxon Ostmark if it were not for that principle.
I'm glad we moved.
On the one hand, Dallas is not even in hailing distance of the kind of trouble Detroit is in. On the other hand, if you back off, squint your eyes a little and look at it from an overview, there are some parallels.
The situation in Michigan is deeply racial. Detroit is 83 percent African-American. Firestone tells us that Michigan already has taken over four other cities, all of them majority black.
I always think there's another set of numbers we need for context, not in a short op-ed piece like Firestone's today but in a deeper longer look. How many African-American people are scattered across the Detroit suburbs -- or our own -- doing just fine and living the dream? I want to see that number, because otherwise I expect racists to start painting a picture of all black people based narrowly and exclusively on those who have been left behind in the old neighborhoods and cities.
But I'm also willing to admit that the concept is a bit arcane. People see a mainly black city in the ditch and mainly white suburbs in the pink as many of them are around Detroit. Face it. They see a racial picture.
Let's not kid ourselves. We've got a similar picture. And that freights the question with a whole 'nother baggage, good, bad and ugly.
Let's take a hike up to our own prosperous profoundly -- even zanily -- conservative suburban Collin County and sound out some people how they'd feel about merging their communities with Dallas someday to maybe help out the city some. Oh, jeez. You'd hear stuff that would make Rush Limbaugh sound like Maya Angelou.
Do you give in to that? Look at cross-district busing. Yes. At some point you do give in, because you can't make that rock roll. It's just too much.
You get a flavor of how bad things are in Detroit by looking at the other Big Idea for the Motor City: large-scale urban agriculture. That might be easier than merging with the 'burbs. Not saying it could happen here.
But let's say it did. Am I going to wind up back on my knees digging spuds and shipping my daughters off to the Park Cities for a romp with the duke?
Not me. I'm not going to be having any daughters. And by the time Dallas turns into a potato farm, I plan to have pulled off another Great Escape, this time to nursing lah-lah land. Only this time I won't even remember to feel guilty about it.
Dementia: the place where even a libtard can learn to think like a Republican. I look forward.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.