Testifying in a federal trial last week, former Obama administration "car czar" Steven Rattner offered what we see as a reasonable explanation for the government's 2009 decision to require Chrysler Group to shrink its dealer network before advancing more bailout funds, a decision that led to 789 dealers losing their franchises abruptly and without compensation.
Chrysler didn't have to take the deal, Rattner testified. And, we might add, the government didn't have to offer it.
We sympathize with the auto dealers who were among many unfortunate victims of that financial crisis, and we are glad to see them get their day in court a decade later.
But the taxpayers of the United States are probably thankful to hear that in those days when hundreds of billions of federal dollars were being ladled out to unrepentant banks and insurers, someone at the Treasury Department was laying down at least a few conditions before giving more of their money away.
Hindsight offers a clear answer, but in 2009, whether Chrysler was worth saving was a disputed question. As long as the Treasury was conflicted about it, it had every right to weigh the taxpayer's interests heavily by imposing those conditions on Chrysler.
If that meant the company's next model had to be named the Dodge Taxpayer, so be it.
The federal government, ever unloved, makes for a convenient target in this case. But dealers who accept franchises agree to hitch their fortunes to the manufacturer they represent, and they must be prepared to stomach the risk of failure.
It's up to the government, as representatives of the taxpayer, to decide whether to bail out a private company, and it's certainly not the government's obligation to make everyone whole.
While a manufacturer was saved, hundreds lost their livelihoods, so there's no way to call the outcome fair. But the real villains in this case are not the hapless bureaucrats who labored to keep the economy functioning. Rather, they are the executives of Daimler and Cerberus and Chrysler Group who weakened a company, drove it into the ground and destroyed the fortunes of their retail partners in the process.
We can't wait for their turn on the stand.