This week, in an interview on CBS, Romney defended himself against critics of his work at Bain Capital by equating what he did as a corporate restructuring specialist with Obama’s temporary takeover of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009. “In the general election,” Romney said, “I’ll be pointing out that the president took the reins at General Motors and Chrysler – closed factories, closed dealerships, laid off thousands and thousands of workers – he did it to try to save the business.”
Limbaugh has gotten his voluminous knickers in a twist because Romney is essentially acknowledging that what Obama did was a good thing. Limbaugh and his legion of cranky followers believe Obama’s action was a frightening display of big government socialism aimed at preserving union pensions and union jobs. To them, Romney’s words are capitulation, if not treason.
In fact, the Republican front-runner’s comments amount to something else: another huge flip-flop. In a New York Times op-ed piece in 2008, Romney wrote, “If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye."
What Romney wanted for the car companies was a structured bankruptcy that would have, in Bain Capital style, slashed pensions and jobs, undercut the unions and mollified investors. What the companies got, instead, was an infusion of federal money and a brief period of government oversight.
The result? Two years later, the U.S. automakers are one of the rare success stories of these dismal economic times. General Motors has added thousands of jobs and invested $2 billion in 17 manufacturing plants. Chrysler has done so well that the company paid off the federal loan six years ahead of schedule. And despite Limbaugh’s nasty assertion that Detroit had been rescued only to “market a stupid-ass car that nobody wants,” there are some stylish, innovative new products rolling off those American assembly lines.
Amazingly, Romney now claims this was all his idea. A Romney spokesman told the New York Times, “You have to acknowledge that he (Romney) was advocating for a course of action that eventually the Obama administration adopted.”
Michigan’s former Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, told MSNBC that Romney is performing “circus-like contortions” on this issue. “If this had gone the way Mitt Romney had wanted it to go and there was no rescue of the auto industry,” she said, “then we would have seen 1.4 million people unemployed. In Michigan alone, it would have been a 20% unemployment rate.… The guy is shameless.”
Limbaugh huffs and puffs and fumes because Obama’s approach put workers ahead of bondholders. Romney’s original plan would have been much more to Limbaugh’s liking in that regard. Now, it’s not exactly obvious where Romney, the son of a former auto executive, stands on this issue.
Does Romney favor government intervention to save American industries? If so, he’s anathema to Limbaugh’s "dittoheads" and most of the tea party. If not, how can he claim any share of credit for one of Obama’s biggest bragging points?