CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Addressing the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night, the head of the nation's leading auto workers union praised President Barack Obama and attacked GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney for their respective stances on the 2008 bailout of the auto industry.
Obama expanded the bailout of the auto industry that President George W. Bush started in late 2008, while Romney took a public stance against the federal intervention, penning an opinion piece for The New York Times that ran under the headline "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Given the broad rebound of the American auto industry, the bailout issue is expected to give Obama a boost in Midwestern states like Ohio and Michigan and work against Romney.
"President Obama took action, putting together a rescue team and demanding real change, real sacrifice from everyone: management, labor, shareholders, suppliers, debt-holders and dealers," King said. "It wasn't universally popular, but it was absolutely right."
Summarizing Romney's position, King very deliberately recited the headline of Romney's now infamous op-ed, with the crowd of Democratic delegates joining in. (In fact, Romney did not pen the piece's headline.) Romney's position on the auto bailout has hobbled the candidate for months. He's tried to clarify that, rather than extend federal aid, he wanted to see GM and Chrysler go through managed bankruptcy. They eventually did, though it's unlikely the companies would have made it through that process without government intervention.
King cast Obama's extension of the bailout as a courageous move that cut against public opinion at the time. According to the Pew Research Center, the bailout was, in fact, rather unpopular in its immediate aftermath, with 54 percent of the public believing the loans to GM and Chrysler were a bad idea, compared to 37 percent who believed they were a good idea. By early 2012, those figures had essentially flip-flopped, with a majority of Americans showing support for the bailout.
King then went on to ding Romney for his record at the private equity firm he helped found, Bain Capital, a common note struck by labor leaders in recent months.
"Too often he and his partners made their money not by building companies up, but by taking them apart," King said. "And too often, the workers ended up in the street, even as Romney and his partners walked away with millions."
Continuing a theme introduced earlier in the night by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, King also argued that unions and collective bargaining in the workplace were vital to the survival of the American middle class. He criticized the GOP broadly on labor issues, arguing that the attacks on public-sector workers in Wisconsin, led by Republican Gov. Scott Walker (R), would "take us back to a time when workers couldn't stand up for themselves."
"Strong unions and collective bargaining lifted millions out of poverty and built the great American middle class," King said. "And it's the middle class that keeps America's democracy and economy strong."