Historian Thomas Sugrue explains how Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck got it wrong on Detroit

Historians in the News

Newt Gingrich and Glenn Beck weren't the first to blame Detroit's historic decline on Democratic policies, but their high-profile status has re-invigorated a debate over the political, social and economic factors that led to the city's many problems.

Beck, speaking in March on his now-cancelled Fox News show, compared Detroit unfavorably to Hiroshima, arguing the latter city recovered from an atomic bomb by embracing the free market while Detroit rotted under the weight of progressive policies, unions and a federal government that didn't allow the auto industry to fail.

Yesterday, we riled a few feathers by posting a quote from University of Pennsylvania historian Thomas Sugrue, a Detroit native who penned one of the definitive accounts of the post-war city.

He suggested that Gingrich oversimplified Detroit's decline -- and likely will continue to do so for political purposes -- arguing that suburban flight, the interstate highway system and the loss of automotive industry jobs played a larger role in determining the city's fate than party politics or entitlement programs.

Sugrue elaborated that position later in the day during an interview with Frank Beckmann on WJR-AM 760. Listen to the full interview in the embedded player or read on for highlights.

On Gingrich and Beck: "To explain Detroit's fate on food stamps, as Ginrich did, or the recent bailouts to the auto industry, as Glenn Beck suggested, is to really miss the long history that led to the problems Detroit is facing today. They go back way before the last 20 years. They really go back to the 1950's and the 1960's. Even before the urban riots and even before Detroit began losing jobs in big numbers."...

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