Detroit is everybody’s disappointing child

The Detroit 3 CEOs -- and UAW President Ron Gettelfinger -- got spanked this week in Congress. They flew back home smarting and feeling abused about how they were treated.

True, Senate and House members on both sides of the aisle did seem to treat Detroit’s captains of industry with disdain, almost like children.

Actually, exactly like children.

The three CEOs showed up disorganized, unprepared and without an apparent plan. And, as my wife Kathryn sometimes says, “They engaged the parent” in each Member of Congress.

Instinctively, each legislator adopted a parental attitude. So did a lot of the media. And that resonated with huge chunks of the American public. After years of underperforming, Detroit is engaging the adult in most Americans.

In short, Detroit has become everybody’s disappointing child.

People are angry their child is not doing what it is capable of.

They are frustrated that it is not listening.

They are anguished it keeps screwing up and then being evasive.

They’re disappointed it is not learning from its mistakes.

Detroit has to not be that child. It needs to learn faster. One bit of good news: People who act this way usually want the child to succeed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent the three CEOs packing, but told them to come back with a coherent plan. She talked down to them (sound like your parents when you did something dumb as a kid?), but her advice was useful.

Ask again. Do it better. Show a real plan. Take some humility lessons -- you’re asking for a last-gasp loan from a lot of taxpayers who are poorer than UAW members.

Don’t argue it wasn’t your fault. Maybe viscous outside forces did overwhelm your plan. So what? After many awkward moments in the glare of parental ire, children eventually learn to accept responsibility and explain how it won’t happen again.

The Detroit CEOs have to do that. Yes, they will have to grovel. To be lectured by Congressmen on handling money responsibly (Congress, for Pete’s sake!). To tolerate speeches on how businesses should never be subsidized by taxpayer money by a Senator from a state that positively threw hundreds of thousands in taxpayer funds to lure one, two, three foreign automakers to build factories there.

Be humble. This is public theater and you have a role to play.

But go back strong. Park the corporate jets. Drive to Washington.

And invite every employee of every automaker, supplier company and dealership you can organize to drive along with you. Invite politicians and employees of every local government and school district your taxes support, every charity and organization your donations support, everybody whose job depends on the Detroit 3. Bring them with you and tell your story.

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