For the past couple of weeks I've been pontificating that Obama would have had trouble winning if he had run against Mitt Romney. Unlike McCain, Romney had serious economic credentials and, as a Washington outsider, he wasn't as tied to Bush's record. The past week, however, has reminded me why Romney got trounced by McCain in the first place. He's a freakin' numbskull.
In an op-ed in the Times this week, and again on Good Morning America today, he argues that we should let the Big Three go bankrupt so that they can restructure. Okay, maybe it's a reasonable proposition, but what's his logic?
Well, turns out his father did something similar to help save a car company called AMC. Back in 1954.
And that is why we are all driving AMC cars today.
Well, you might be, if you're driving a Jeep brand, the only nameplate alive from American Motors, which was acquired by Chrysler in the early 80's. Of course, Chrysler never would have been able to buy it if they hadn't had a bailout in 1979. They would have both been gone by now.
But back to Romney's plan, the first thing he'd do is change senior management. The way he sees it, they got us into this mess. Well, actually Mr. Romney, senior management has already changed. The majority of the leadership in Detroit have been sitting at their desks less than two years. They came from companies like Toyota, Boeing, and GE. They came from markets in South America, Europe and Asia, places where our domestic brands have actually been doing pretty well. Romney's ignorance of Detroit's management shows how well he's thought this thing through. Though I get the sense he hasn't really done anything except look at his dad's old photo album ("Aw, there he is with Walter Reuther!")
But let's not be coy about the real agenda here. Republicans like Mitt Romney see this as an opportunity to wage war against the UAW. The union vote was a deciding factor in states like Ohio and the GOP sees a chance to make them pay. Forget the fact that the UAW gave up massive concessions in the last negotiations, historic concessions that will put the domestic car companies' costs at par with the imports and save them tons of cash (which they could use to pay back the government loans) this is all about political revenge, plain and simple.
The auto industry has persevered for years despite being a favorite punching bag of both the right and the left. After Rush Limbaugh takes a swing at them, Michael Moore kicks them, then Ralph Nader stomps them and now Romney comes in for the kill. Add to that a credit crunch that was none of their making - your aunt who bought the McMansion in Simi Valley is more responsible than they are - and now they're in serious trouble.
Yet despite all this, they've been doing an excellent job. That may sound funny, but it's true. The cars are better made than they've ever been (Consumer Reports rates Ford on par with Toyota and Honda) and more efficient (Chevy offers more models than Toyota or Honda with mileage of 30 mpg or better.)
The only problem is, like the beautiful girl in the teen movie hidden behind the glasses and the braces, nobody sees how good they really are.
Despite their successes, most of us stopped shopping American, even considering American, a long time ago. You may love the fact that the UAW helped elect Obama, but chances are you're not supporting them when you shop for cars. You may have a "Country First" bumper sticker on your car, but chances are it's an import.
We can complain about the fact that they make SUV's and trucks, but the fact is the imports do too. Toyota would rather sell high profit Tundra trucks than Priuses any day of the week (and those trucks get a lower mpg than Ford's do.) We can say we don't want to our government to lend money to the Big Three, but that government was once perfectly happy to take in tax revenue on the big ticket vehicles they sold. We can say they don't deserve a 25 billion dollar loan, yet for some reason Wall Street gets to play with 700 billion?
There isn't a simple solution. These aren't the 1950's. It's a global landscape with so many interlocking parts, making the manufacturing base of our country as complex as AIG, Fannie Mae, and the Lehman Brothers all put together.
So yes Mitt, having the Big Three go bankrupt may lead to some "restructuring," but when you think about the local dealers, the suppliers, and all the businesses contingent on their success - somewhere between two million or four million jobs are tied to the domestic car business - your plan stands a good chance of restructuring our economy right into the garbage can.
Just something to think about while you're driving your Gremlin home.