Disclosure first: I live in Southern California, and I'm almost certain they don't sell American cars here. The cops drive Crown Vics, but only to give the criminals a sporting chance to get away. Makes the freeway chases last longer. Good for ratings.
I guess I've rented American cars. I drove a Dodge Intrepid around Rhode Island one summer, and appreciated how much it handled like the aircraft carrier for which it was named. I drove an Oldsmobile Intrigue in Montreal a few years ago, and the most intriguing thing about it was the way it didn't start the second day and they had to tow it back to the airport.
The only actual autoworker I've ever met is the guy who wrote Rivethead, and he probably wasn't typical, at least I hope not.
I'm sure most autoworkers are the salt of the earth, though. Hard-working patriots from Bruce Springsteen songs, with only the occasional moments of existential doubt over unplanned pregnancies and brothers who ain't no good. Nothing that staring at a river wouldn't fix.
Only a tiny, tiny fraction of them are former death camp guards.
I'm all for good union jobs with health insurance and pensions. If you work hard you should be able to send your kids to school and eat, even when you're old. I thought that was the American Dream, before it got replaced with the right to stockpile ammo.
To sum up: Autoworkers are aces with me. And so are cars. Very useful for getting around.
That said, there are only two reasons to save an American car company: Nostalgia and nativism. And neither of those is a very good reason.
What do we even mean when we say, "the American auto industry?" Honda has been making cars -- like my Civic -- in Ohio since 1982.
Do we mean American capital? Because that's just silly. Capital flows freely. Or it used to.
So why is Honda on its own, while GM is our problem? Both have American workers and American customers. (Well, Honda has customers.) Is it because GM's founders were white, or because its management is native born? Do we owe the Ford family reparations for something I missed? Is this really how we operate?
I'm not saying nostalgia and nativism don't have their place. Lou Dobbs gives me the creeps, but lots of people like him. The worst thing about the automotive industry bailout is that it's insincere. It's preying on our nativist and nostalgic attachments to things that don't exist anymore.
There's no such thing as Chrysler. It doesn't even have any stockholders to save. If the bailout passes, your money will go directly to the hardworking men and women of something called Cerberus Capital Management, L.P.
Cerberus, named for reasons unknown after the mythical three-headed dog that drags souls to hell, is one of the world's largest private investment firms. By its own account, it has $25 billion under management in funds and accounts and significant investments in more than 50 companies that, in aggregate, generate more than $60 billion in annual revenues worldwide.
A Japanese bank called Aozora
A Japanese real estate company called Showa Jisho
A Japanese golf course company called Kokusai Kogyo
An Israeli bank called Bank Leumi
A German bank called Handel und Kredit Bankhaus
A reinsurance company called Scottish Re, with headquarters in Bermuda
A British TV rental chain called Boxclever
Telacris Biotherapeutics, which seems to make things out of blood plasma, or into blood plasma or something
A defense contractor called IAP World Wide
Alamo Rental Car
250 Burger Kings
7 television stations
$30,000,000 worth of Mike Myers' "The Love Guru"
65,000 apartments in Berlin through GSW Berlin GmbH
Maybe you or your congressperson has a nostalgic attachment to some of those things. I don't.
Maybe Cerberus Capital Management L.P. should sell some of them, if they really need cash to stay in the minivan business.
Maybe they should stop using Chrysler to shake down the United States Treasury, like using a less-loved relative in a wheelchair to cut the line at Disneyland.