Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Romney to Big Three: Drop Dead

If you read the opinion page of the New York Times today, you would have noticed a curious thing in the Op-Ed contributor section. Mitt Romney - yes, the golden child of Michigan - arguing to let Detroit go bankrupt. While his piece was insightful and I agreed with a lot of what he said (as it was in similar vein to my ditty about Detroit on Monday), the problem with Mitt is best summed up by a friend of mine: "He has no backbone and will say anything to placate the people in front of him." This is true given his campaign speeches in Detroit back in January.

Specifically, the speech he gave in front of the Detroit Economic Club on January 14, 2008 during his failed campaign for the Republican nomination. In his speech, he lamented over the fact that Washington saw what was happening in Detroit and in Michigan as a whole, and rhetorically asked, "And the question is, what has Washington done with this looming, not looming, this existing crisis, this recession, what has Washington done to help? The answer is not very much at all." He goes on to say that "A lot of Washington politicians are aware of the pain, but they haven't done anything about it. And of course, I hear people from time to time say, 'Well, that's Michigan's problem.' Or, they say something like, 'Well, it's the car companies. They just brought it on themselves. But that's where they're wrong."

Romney also went out of his way to criticize John McCain who told Michigan voters in his characteristic straight talk that was missing from the general election, "Some of the jobs that have left the state of Michigan are not coming back. They are not. And I am sorry to tell you that." Romney attacked McCain in the South Carolina debate and said that he disagreed with McCain's assertion and that he was "not willing to accept defeat like that." He also asked "Where is Washington?" while campaigning in front of a GM plant during the primaries.

So all of this rhetoric about Washington saving Detroit and the Big Three, with all those jobs lost in Michigan coming back in Romney's view, and the Washington politicians ignoring the problem because they think the car companies brought it on themselves was Romney's tone in January. November? Romney is a new man, calling for Washington to ignore the pleas of the Big Three and allow the companies to go bankrupt.

But why? Why the sudden turnaround? He says that the labor agreements are a burden on the American manufacturers and benefits like retirement should be reduced. Secondly, he says that the management of the companies must go. That must be because the management brought this disaster upon themselves. Romney also calls for investment in fuel saving designs - despite criticizing an energy bill signed by Bush increasing the measely MPG requirements for cars and trucks in the US. Romney says that a "managed bankruptcy" might be the only path to save these companies as it would allow them to do a multitude of things, one of which is to "shed excess labor." So I guess those jobs that Romney promised Michigan that would be coming back to their state are really just excess labor that need shedding.

So it appears that Romney may just say anything to placate those in front of him and that my friend is right. Obviously Mitt wants to stay in the spotlight because campaigning for 2012 should be starting any day now, but writing Op-Eds in the New York Times that completely go against what you said earlier this year is not a good way to start. The populism streak amongst Republicans is a fad right now, because it helped McCain garner some votes in the election, but it just does not suit most of them. So the question Mitt needs to start asking himself is not "Where is Washington?" but "Have I no shame?" Peace.

Photos - Mitt Romney (Wikipedia), Car executives begging for money in Washington (BBC), Romney at the GM exhibit at the Detroit Auto Show the same day he gave a speech in front of the Detroit Economic Club (Daylife)

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