Political rhetoric aside, the Great Recession of 2009 has not provoked unemployment numbers anywhere near the 25 percent rates seen at the height of the Great Depression. Except in Detroit.

This summer, Detroit's official unemployment rate hit a record 28.9 percent. The city's economic pain was on public display Wednesday as a riot scene out of the 1930s erupted here. An estimated 35,000 city residents rushed the doors of Cobo Hall in a desperate attempt to grab 5,000 federal assistance applications made available to Detroit as part of the "Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program," a federal stimulus fund designed to help residents pay rent and utility bills.

The resulting chaos is symbolic not only of Detroit's plight but also of the wild lunge for free money that has been the hallmark of the $18 billion in stimulus money thrown at Michigan since last spring.

Tens of millions of dollars have been siphoned for pie-in-the-sky public-rail projects once dismissed as boondoggles, or for trendy green items such as twisty light bulbs, or for low-priority road projects, or for a Detroit public school system whose accounting system is notoriously corrupt. Another $1.4 billion will plug a gaping hole in the state budget, putting off sorely needed structural reforms.

Inside Cobo, thousands kicked and clawed for applications, ripping them from one another's hands. Many were trampled and sirens wailed as ambulances escorted six people to local hospitals.

A fitting metaphor for federal stimulus spending run amok.