Obama's Chrysler 'victory lap' a sad celebration

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As we mark the two-year anniversary of Chrysler's emergence from its government-sponsored bankruptcy reorganization this month, let's have the political truth squad join President Obama at the Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, today. Is this really something to celebrate? Like this?

First of all, Obama's ongoing political "victory lap" at various U.S. auto plants is getting a bit old -- and even bailout recipient Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne last week told CNBC this: "I am sorry I am being brash but when you owe money to people and you pay them back you shouldn't be celebrating. You just cut them a check and send them home and say thank you on your way out."

Politicos know Ohio and Michigan will be key swing states in the 2012 election. No president has been elected without winning Ohio since 1964, according to Bloomberg. But the election is 17 months away. It's just politically too early to be playing this card.

Another problem with all this celebrating: It wasn't just Obama's bailout. It was also George W. Bush's bailout. Without the $17.4 billion commitment from the Bush administration in late 2008 before Obama took office, the Obama bailout would not have been possible. Chrysler and General Motors would have failed before the Obama inauguration.

Obama's victory lap should have Bush in the passenger seat. But in the political world, Obama wants all the credit -- and Republicans are happy to give it to him. Still, it amazes me that Republicans in the Midwest don't embrace the bailout, given that it was initiated by a Republican and saved the economy in this part of the country.

As a Toledo native and someone who makes his living from the auto industry, it's easy for me to support the bailout. For people like me, it saved our livelihood.

But let's come to some truthful realizations here: The need for an auto industry bailout was a tragedy and an embarrassment to the United States.

Do we really want to celebrate now that it's almost over?

And if we do, let's give both Obama and Bush bipartisan credit for the success of this very unfortunate, but necessary undertaking that we pray never happens again.

You can reach Philip Nussel at pnussel@crain.com.

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