Getting Good Mileage from the GM Takeover Plan

05/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At long last, the plan is finally hatched to "save" the auto industry, or at least General Motors. President Obama's quasi-takeover blueprint is bold and intriguing, and could even become a template for managing the whole financial crisis itself. Indeed, in the spirit of the old axiom, perhaps what's good for General Motors really is good for America after all.

The latest incarnation of industrial bailout could include the unique move of shepherding the U.S. auto giant through potential bankruptcy proceedings. Taking advantage of certain legal provisions in the bankruptcy code, the notion essentially would be to split the company into two pieces: the "good" part and the "bad" part. For argument's sake, let's call the former Good Car (which will include brands like Cadillac and Chevrolet) and the latter Bad Car (which will subsume the also-rans and didn't-runs like Saturn and Hummer). The plan would carve Good Car from GM and get it running again, while Bad Car will remain up on blocks in bankruptcy proceedings presumably until it's liquidated.

This unprecedented move -- at least insofar as we might have the government acting in a semi-receivership capacity and bifurcating a major corporation -- could serve as a model for further interventions in these challenging times, comprising a sort of nascent test drive to restart the old economic engines. Imagine for a moment the potential implications if this scheme was applied to some of the key entities and issues in society:

Bad Wall, Good Street: It's hard to find the positive side among the modern-day robber barons and golden parachute crowd. But most of the people working it day-in and day-out in downtown Manhattan are just that: workers. Plus, there are some brokers there with ethics (really!) and even a few who invest only in green enterprises and socially-just endeavors. These folks are the good part of Wall Street and ought to be freed up to do their thing, while the rest will be required to raise $2 trillion to bail us out for a change.

Good Telly, Bad Vision: This one is more complicated than simply revisiting Stewart vs. Cramer. Television has been called a "vast wasteland" and a popular bumper sticker urges people to "kill" theirs. Still, it would be interesting if people were truly forced to choose only those few programs they simply couldn't live without, and all the rest were suddenly reduced to test patterns. During the last election cycle, then-candidate Obama actually urged us to turn off our televisions and read to our children. Perhaps he was already thinking about which shows to excise when government takes the reins? Let's keep all the various Star Treks and the music videos up and running -- oh yeah, music television doesn't actually show music videos anymore, that's right -- so Trek it is, then, warp speed ahead!

Bad AIG, Good Riddance: There just isn't anything good to be found here, so the whole thing gets axed. Better yet, let's give them all complimentary Corvairs. Or Pintos donated by Ford. Maybe Hummers with blown head gaskets, flat tires, and exorbitant overdue payments? Nah. No cars for this crew -- just the karma they've rightly earned.

Good Global, Bad Warming: After briefly fancying some of the moons of Saturn, I've decided that this little blue-green Earth of ours is actually the place to be. It's really a fine globe we've got here, and one not easily replaced -- they're not making any more, as the old saying goes. Everything we are comes from this place, and while it's true that we're part of Nature it's also the case that we're tampering with it in myriad problematic ways. In fact, this is likely the first time in history that a terrestrial species has so rapidly and dramatically altered its own environment; consider, for instance, that we've actually managed to cause geological and glacial processes to occur on a human time scale. This is no unimpressive feat, but it must be halted -- like, now. Thus, in a stunning maneuver, the Obama Administration has secretly been planning to ban all toxic emissions (see the note on Television above for what will become of FOX News under this rubric) and require that every rooftop in the country be made out of solar panels. Oil companies go the way of the Edsel and nuclear reactors are replaced by New Clear Energy.

Bad Mister, Good Wrench: Michael Moore's got this one poignantly covered already, but it fits too well to omit it from this litany!

Good Bye, Bad Buy: I think we should all drive whatever Reverend Billy is driving. He's the guy running for mayor of New York on the Green Party ticket. He's also the leading light of the Church of Stop Shopping. No, he won't win any Chamber of Commerce endorsements, but he will earn the lasting affection of future generations for simply advocating that we cease consuming so much crapola. We can get what we need, and even some of what we desire, without making ourselves the enemy of (a) each other and (b) everything else on the planet. Applying a bit of forethought before making that next purchase could go a long way toward making things go a long way. Let's slow down the engine of consumption enough to make our collective road trip a happy one. Government cannot mandate this for us, but luckily we as consumers have the power to make it happen and steer ourselves away from that approaching precipice.

So let's take a page from the Obama GM owner's manual and rev up our newfound enthusiasm for allowing the good to flourish and the rest to flounder. Wouldn't it be fun, fun, fun to be lounging on crushed velvet seats in a little red Corvette -- um, I mean Prius -- instead of always being in the SUV breakdown lane spewing fumes during rush hour? Yes, this new plan to turn General Motors into Specific Motors feels very good indeed...