On November 18, 2008, Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Here's the lead paragraph:
If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won't go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.
Detroit got its bailout, starting with some emergency bridge loans issued in the final weeks of the George W. Bush administration. In the spring of 2009, President Obama implemented a much more comprehensive package that included the government taking a 60 percent ownership stake in General Motors.
Even before Romney spoke out, the Washington Post editorial board had opposed any bailouts, publishing an October 27, 2008 piece called "Welfare for Detroit." Once the bailouts were implemented, other voices weighed in from the right. Most of these echoed Romney, arguing in favor of letting the companies fail rather than the government getting involved. In June 2009, John Boehner sneeringly asked: "Does anyone really believe that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington can successfully steer a multi-national corporation to economic viability?"
Other critics went well beyond economic arguments. The day the restructuring of General Motors was announced on March 30, 2009, Rush Limbaugh accused the president of simply wanting to "take over" the auto industry, so that it would "become another industry doing his bidding." As for how the bailout would work out, three months later Limbaugh added: "[Obama's] taking over more of these businesses and running them into the ground at the same time." The critics were having an effect. By June 2009, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that the American people disapproved by a 53 to 39 percent margin of "the federal government providing loans and financial assistance to Chrysler and GM."
Romney himself, on the campaign trail in early 2012, also accused the president of playing politics with the bailout, characterizing it as "crony capitalism on a grand scale," and added, "instead of doing the right thing and standing up to union bosses, Mr. Obama rewarded them." Were the critics right? Read on.
Of course not. I wouldn't ask you a trick question. As early as summer 2010, The Economist--a well-known bastion of 'free-market' ideology--declared:
An apology is due to Barack Obama: his takeover of GM could have gone horribly wrong, but it has not. Many people thought this bail-out (and a smaller one involving Chrysler, an even sicker firm) unwise. [snip] Yet the doomsayers were wrong.
By September 2012, even Limbaugh himself had flip-flopped. Rather than continuing to bash Obama over the bailout, he found a new tune to sing: It worked, but the credit belongs to George W. Bush alone. "George W. Bush did the auto bailout. Yeah, Obama asked Bush to, but Bush did it. It was already done by the time Obama got there." Bear in mind that in April 2009, Rush had claimed that Chrysler and GM "bent over, [and] grabbed the ankles" because "everybody's scared of Obama." Leaving aside the reprehensible connotations of rape, Limbaugh has the president somehow morphing from an intimidating bully into an essentially uninvolved bystander.
Why bring all this up now? This past month, U.S. auto sales reached their highest levels since September 11, when companies offered 0% financing deals in order to bolster sales after the attacks. At the current pace, there will be more cars sold in 2015 than in any year since, well, ever. Boy, were the doomsayers wrong. But if we don't spread the word about the facts, it's far too easy for a lie to take hold. We saw that in Houston this past week, albeit on a different issue. We see it in the revisionist right wingers arguing that the New Deal didn't work--when of course, it absolutely did.
Right-wing economic ideology purports that government shouldn't get involved in "picking winners and losers." They argue that a recession should weed out weaker companies, and that the "winds of creative destruction" blowing through an economy will--in the long run--produce a stronger set of circumstances than anything government intervention can achieve. Of course, as John Maynard Keynes noted, in the long run we're all dead.
But even in the short run, it is clear that our government was right to save the auto industry. Specifically, Barack Obama was right when he acted more aggressively than any recent president to intervene in the running of a major industry. Doing so saved anywhere from two to four million jobs, and saved between $40 and $105 billion in net costs to the American people, according to an analysis done by the Center for Automotive Research. We must publicize and, yes, celebrate that success.
We must do so because, despite all the evidence, despite the walk-backs and apologies issued by some who criticized the deal, the boogeyman is still out there. Marco Rubio, now considered by lots of smart people to be "the most likely candidate to win the Republican 2016 presidential nomination," had this to say just a few months ago about what the government did to save the auto industry:
I don't think that was the right way to handle it, but certainly our auto industry is important. Again, it was a problematic approach that the federal government took to doing it. But at the end of the day our industry has to be globally competitive. One of the things that makes them globally competitive ... is having a workforce that can do the work and also having tax policies, regulatory policies that ensures that America continues to be a place where all industries thrive including the auto industry.
The above graph--which doesn't even include the new sales record set just last month--proves that Marco Rubio is as wrong as a pickup truck with five wheels. In reality, Rubio's the perfect Republican nominee, because, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the GOP never lets the truth stand in the way of a good story.
(Cross-posted at Daily Kos. Links at original.)