WASHINGTON, D.C. -- By virtue of the fact that a Republican presidential primary has waged in Michigan these past few weeks, the candidates have made the argument, over and over, that the auto industry bailout was a boondoggle for the unions. The chief perpetuator of this line of thinking has been Mitt Romney, who has declared on multiple occasions that the United Auto Workers were given a sweetheart deal when the president bailed out the Big Three, while creditors were forced to wait in line.
Romney's history has been questioned by several fact-checking organizations. Obama's former auto czar Steven Rattner, meanwhile, took to the New York Times op-ed page to note that UAW members were given company stock in exchange for dropping claims to health care coverage they had been guaranteed under previous contracts.
But the question, as asked by The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn, has always remained: What exactly is the big deal if the union made out better than creditors?
Romney has argued that the big deal is corruption: The president was supported by the UAW and paid them back with a favorable bailout. Both the unions and the White House have disputed this. But in practical terms, the notion that the unions got a better deal for their workers than creditors got for themselves isn't exactly radical.
On Tuesday at an address to the United Auto Workers convention in Washington D.C., the president argued rather that lawmakers should be cheering the improving conditions of the Big Three employees.
From the embargoed text:
[It]'s been funny to watch some of these politicians completely rewrite history now that you're back on your feet. These are the folks who said if we went forward with our plan to rescue Detroit, "You can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye." Now they're saying they were right all along. Or worse, they're saying that the problem is that you, the workers, made out like bandits in all of this; that saving the American auto industry was just about paying back unions. Really? Even by the standards of this town, that's a load of you-know-what. About 700,000 retirees saw a reduction in the health care benefits they had earned. Many of you saw hours reduced, or pay and wages scaled back. You gave up some of your rights as workers. Promises were made to you over the years that you gave up for the sake and survival of this industry, its workers, and their families. You want to talk about values? Hard work -- that's a value. Looking out for one another -- that's a value. The idea that we're all in it together -- that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper -- that is a value.
But they're still talking about you as if you're some greedy special interest that needs to be beaten. Since when are hardworking men and women special interests? Since when is the idea that we look out for each other a bad thing? To borrow a line from our old friend Ted Kennedy: What is it about working men and women they find so offensive?