Clint Eastwood’s powerful and moving “Halftime in America” Super Bowl ad for Chrysler has been denounced by some Republican operatives as partisan shilling for President Obama. Eastwood and Chrysler deny it. What’s undeniable is that Mr. Obama, despite tremendous political pressure to do nothing, used federal money to keep Chrysler and General Motors out of bankruptcy liquidation. (Help for Chrysler began in the waining days of the Bush administration). Challenger Mitt Romney opposed the bailout, an irony coming from this son of the man who rescued American Motors.
Playing counterfactual history is always risky, but what if Washington had done nothing? Ford didn’t need federal help. The Japanese transplant factories were also safe. Still, it’s unlikely that GM and Chrysler could have gone through Chapter 11 proceedings like an airline and come out fine. Union-haters would have enjoyed seeing the United Auto Workers decertified and pensions eliminated (and this helps the middle class…how?).
But the auto industry is much more than two or three companies. Had GM and Chrysler shut down, an entire economic ecosystem of suppliers would have been destroyed and the damage might well have taken Ford down, too. It would have devastated a Midwest already reeling from bad trade deals and offshoring of jobs. Millions of jobs might have been at risk.More