Bailout a key part of Dem message

September 6, 2012
Bailout a key part of Dem message
President works to show he’s willing to make tough choices
By DAVID SHEPARDSON / Detroit News Washington Bureau
Charlotte, N.C. — President Barack Obama is using his decision to rescue the U.S. auto industry as the cornerstone of his re-election effort at the Democratic National Convention this week.

Numerous speakers — including former President Bill Clinton, United Auto Workers president Bob King, a General Motors worker at the company’s Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant, and the founder of CarMax — drove home that fact during the convention’s first two days.

On Wednesday night, Clinton said the auto restructuring worked and saved more than 1 million jobs — not just autoworker and dealership jobs, but supplier positions.

“Now there are 250,000 more people working in the auto industry than the day the companies were restructured,” Clinton said. “Gov. Romney opposed the plan to save GM and Chrysler. So here’s another jobs score: Obama 250,000, Romney, zero.

King said Obama’s decision to approve the $85 billion bailout was a test of character.

“In some of America’s darkest economic days since the Great Depression, and in the face of tremendous political venom, President Obama met that true test of moral character,” King said to cheers. “He stood up — not for what was popular and easy, but for what was right. He stood with American workers — not just autoworkers — but a million workers in towns all across America who, if the auto industry went under, wouldn’t be able to put food on the table.”

The auto bailout, according to strategists and campaign officials, is the clearest example of a decision that saved hundreds of thousands of jobs and created thousands more, particularly in a tight election that could be decided on economic issues.

And it reinforces the narrative the campaign is trying to advance: Obama is a tough leader willing to make hard, unpopular decisions if they are right — especially as the campaign is trying to win key swing states like Ohio.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will talk about the auto bailout tonight at the convention, as will former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Wednesday night also featured a three-minute campaign-produced film that included GM and Chrysler workers talking about the bailout.

In the film, Brian Stead, a GM autoworker, said that without a bailout “in the span of less than a year, a place like Lansing would be a ghost town.”

Karen Eusanio, the daughter of a GM retiree and an Ohio autoworker for nearly 20 years, talked about the effect of the bailout.

“When the auto industry was on its last legs, I was laid off — and I was terrified. How was I going to provide for my daughter and two boys, or pay my mortgage?” she said. Austin Ligon, the former CEO of CarMax Inc., praised Obama for rescuing automakers and for the $3 billion “Cash for Clunkers” program.

Obama “didn’t just save the car companies — it helped prevent a domino effect that would have taken down everything in the auto industry, from the factories that manufactured auto parts to the dealers who sold the cars,” Ligon said in prepared remarks. The convention and film painted a rosy view of the bailout.

None of the speakers noted President George W. Bush made the initial decision to save the auto industry, infusing $25 billion into automakers and their finance arms in late 2008. None noted the fact the bailout is not without costs and the Treasury Department estimates it will cost taxpayers $25.1 billion.

The video noted GM paid its loan early, but didn’t acknowledge the government exchanged most of its loans for stock in the company.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has repeatedly said he would not have let Detroit die, but insisted the companies should have filed for bankruptcy before getting aid.

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland talked at length Tuesday about the auto bailout, drawing thunderous cheers. “Barack Obama saved the American auto industry. Mitt Romney saved on his taxes,” he said.

“Mitt Romney proudly wrote an op-ed entitled, ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.’ If he had had his way, devastation would have cascaded from Michigan to Ohio and across the nation.”

But Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a first-term Republican, rejected the argument, telling the New York Times it’s “absurd” to suggest his state has turned around because of the auto industry.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday recounted a fateful meeting in March 2009 in the White House Roosevelt Room about whether to save Chrysler.

“Some of the president’s advisers said that in order to save General Motors, you had to let Chrysler go under. Others said it was putting good money after bad,” Emanuel said.

“Among all the experts, there were only guesses, and nobody put it at better than a 1-in-a-4-shot. Only the president suggested going all-in to save the industry.”

Sean Fitzpatrick, a Romney spokesman, rejected the criticism against the GOP nominee.

“Mitt Romney proposed the right course for the automakers — a structured bankruptcy process to allow them to emerge as sustainable and profitable enterprises,” Fitzpatrick said.

“Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will get our economy moving again and provide the environment for the American auto industry to thrive.”

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