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Tilting at Windmills

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June 28, 2009

WRONG RESPONSE TO THE WRONG QUESTION.... It hasn't gotten too much attention -- all things considered, that's probably a good thing -- but MSNBC picked up on the calls from some conservatives for a boycott of General Motors. (The idea also got some airtime recently on "The Colbert Report.")

A sizable share of Americans, recent surveys show, are reluctant to buy from a bankrupt automaker. Complicating matters, the bailout is triggering a harsh reaction from the conservative end of the political spectrum, with some high-profile pundits calling for an outright boycott of what many are calling "Government Motors."

Among the most vocal is Hugh Hewitt, who has frequently called for a boycott to protest the "Obamaization of the American car business," both on his syndicated radio show and on his blog.

Hewitt insists that "individual Americans" must resist buying the automaker's products because, as he wrote in one blog entry, "every dollar spent with GM is a dollar spent against free enterprise."

I rarely agree with Joe Scarborough, but two weeks ago, he described the idea of a GM boycott as "stupid," and the conservative proponents of the boycott "morons."

While that's probably an impolite way of putting it, Scarborough's larger point is certainly true. As we talked about earlier this month, these conservative activists have the situation backwards.

The Obama administration intervened to prevent GM's collapse, but its goal is to see the auto manufacturer get back on its feet quickly. The White House doesn't want to hold onto GM; it wants to divest as quickly as possible. A boycott, organized by far-right activists, would work against Americans' interests -- it would undermine GM, exacerbate the company's problems, and undercut taxpayers who obviously have a lot invested in this arrangement.

If GM's finances improve, the government can divest, American jobs will be saved, and taxpayers can get a return on their money. That would be a good thing.

There's been (a little too much) debate in conservative circles over the last several months about whether, in the midst of multiple crises, it's appropriate to root for failure. But it's even more striking to see some conservatives trying to actively ensure failure, regardless of the consequences for the country.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Right wingers frequently work against their self-interest. That is their ideology at work, in which solving real problems is not why they are involved in politics in the first place. They are revolutionaries who want to change the culture or destroy institutions, movements, political parties, systems and people who offend them. So, yes, Obama's aim may be the same as the announced goal of Hewitt -- to return GM to private control. But Hewitt does not really care about that, or that his boycott if successful would actually prolong the need for GM to require public subsidies. Hewitt's real interest is as a cultural warrior and the pseudo-nationalization of GM provides him with a ready platform to rail against the "Socialization of America." As long as Hewitt and his listners think he is the Champion of the Free Market and American Freedom, it does not matter in the least to Hewitt if he actuall undermines both.

Posted by: Ted Frier on June 28, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

A boycott, organized by far-right activists, would work against Americans' interests -- it would undermine GM, exacerbate the company's problems, and undercut taxpayers who obviously have a lot invested in this arrangement...

...and lead to a percieved Obama administration failure. Need I say more?

Posted by: Meanie-meanie, tickle a person on June 28, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

So, MSNBC picked up on the GM calls by conservatives. Amazing that those right wingers could talk about GM and Michael Jackson at the same time. So, the scanning by that 30 Rock group of anything Michael anytime, worked, eh?

Posted by: berttheclock on June 28, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

GM makes crappy products. Period. That's why GM went bankrupt. So why should American consumers buy them now? So their tax money can stop flowing into GM's coffers?

Posted by: Balderdash on June 28, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Government is picking winners. Tesla Motors is a great new upstart, innovating because GM won't. But the government is determined to prop up GM. That's unfair to Tesla.

Posted by: Creamy Goodness on June 28, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

I think it is high time the American government stepped in to help American industry. For far too long the government has advanced any number of positions that almost insure the success of foreign companies and the failure of American companies in the American market. Sad that nobody notice that during the Bush administration the Republicans actually made it harder for American industry to compete.

Somebody is going to ask for an example. How about health care. America companies are at a competative disadvantage with Japanese automakers right off the bat because the Japanese automakers don't have to provide health care for their workers. That is something done by the state. A second example you ask. Why how about lower emission and fuel standards in America than the rest of the world. Who wants to buy an American gas gusler when the Japanese and Europeans build cars that get better mileage and emit fewer pollutants. By adopting easier standards than required by the rest of the first world, the American government actually put American industry at a long term disadvantage. If they had been forced to create, I have no doubt that American engineers are every bit as creative as Austrialians, Itailians, Japanese or Germans. I could go on, but it is high time that we divorced the government from the notion that what is good for Bank of America and Wall Street is good for America. We need a genuine industrial policy aimed at strengthening America's ability to compete with the rest of the world.

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 28, 2009 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Tesla is also getting government support, Einstein. Tesla is getting it because we need new, innovative cars. GM is getting it because we need a heavy industrial infrastructure to make the new cars and a working population that can afford to buy them instead of picking up old Toyota junkers.

An astonishing number of people in this country are willing to sell out their country in the interest of international corporatism. When you've driven our standard of living down to Third World (or Alabama standards), who are you going to blame then? The Liberals? The Negros? The godless aetheists? Still going to worship the politicians who abused their power to sell all our factories to the Japanese, Germans, and Koreans?

Posted by: Midland on June 28, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

But the government is determined to prop up GM. That's unfair to Tesla.

Actually the gov't is giving a loan to Tesla as well. I wish there were twenty more of these smaller companies. At the same time, I suspect the administration has looked at the projections for unemployment, food stamps, people without health insurance, absorption of pension plan, tax revenues, etc. and decided that propping up GM is cheaper than the alternative.

Posted by: Danp on June 28, 2009 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Let's take meanie's comment up a level.

The losers of the national discourse for the past four years at the polls, and morally for the past 30 and more, are struggling for a dumbed message to power their delusional journey back into the public approval they imagine is rightfully theirs. It doesn't matter what the issue or action might be, who it might damage or what it might cost. They haven't won by lying, destroying the law, or selling government, but that's who they are. It's what they know.

They learned the black arts of marketing down, that it depends on dumb, and repetition. It's just about the only sales tactic they know.

Neither facts nor logic matter. For now, for the forseeable future, we'll get the same thing, constantly twisted from any conceivable situation but always to the same purpose. It doesn't matter whether 72% or 98% of the public likes it, wants it, whatever. It damn sure doesn't matter if it's honest. It will be spun.

Dizziness as a political strategy. Get used to it.

Posted by: semi-adult on June 28, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

You're exactly right, semi. The republicans have thrived on telling lies and on obstruction of any progress that would help all Americans. Their goal is to fatten their bank accounts at the expense of other Americans and use their "base" to support this enrichment. It has been sickening to watch the republicans in action these past 40 years. All of their policies, except for maybe medicare, have damaged this country. They do not care what the results of their actions or inactions may be as long as they hold the reins of power. America, be damned. We're disposable.

Posted by: majii on June 28, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Strange that in a quasi southern state such as Missouri, Real Southern Non-Unionists want to shut down the plants around Kansas City and move them to non-union plants, subsidized by tax breaks, built much further to the South.

However, interesting that in the early days of the Japanese attempting to build their post-war automotive business, they went to the Euros and bought patent rights to save needed R&D time. While, the US industry slept, the Japanese were able to build their R&D into such that Ford had to go, hat in hand, to the Japanese for the needed technology for the hybrid Fusion. All of this while Detroit slept in their hubris filled dreams of being dominant.

Posted by: berttheclock on June 28, 2009 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Hewitt's boycott is not against GM, or Obama or the infusion of public funds into a capital enterprise. If he wasn't railing against this Democratic president or this particular initiative, he would be railing just as irrationally about something else.

Hewitt's boycott is against the very idea of a liberal democracy. Anyone who thinks or acts outside of his narrow, conservative ideology is not only unfit to govern, but cannot be allowed to govern even when elected by the people.

Increasingly, this notion has spread across the conservative movement since the resignation of Nixon, and now defines the Republican party: Democrats are not opponents to compete with in the spheres of politics or ideas, we are enemies to be vanquished using whatever weapons can be brought to bear.

No Democrat can be allowed to succeed, now or ever again, lest liberalism demonstrate some measure of validity and in the process, delay it's ultimate extermination.

Remember, we aren't real Americans. We don't even deserve to be here.

Posted by: beep52 on June 28, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

If GM's finances improve, the government can divest, American jobs will be saved, and taxpayers can get a return on their money. That would be a good thing.

No, it would be a Very Bad Thing. Because it would mean that Government had done something right. Government can't be permitted to do anything right because that would compromise the doctrine that Government can't do anything right.

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on June 28, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

"Government" has also extended loans to Tesla. So I guess "government" is hedging it's bets.

Tesla has interesting technology and has managed to actually produce and sell working vehicles. Tesla has also burned through a pile of money, still has to prove they can build a car ordinary consumers can afford, and that they have a long term sustainable business plan.

Posted by: Butch on June 28, 2009 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

The White House doesn't want to hold onto GM; it wants to divest as quickly as possible.

That's what they want you to think.

They really want GM to grow and grow and grow on the taxpayer's dime until it's the only car company, its employment rolls feather-bedded with reliably Democratic union workers (all hired due to affirmative action quotas), its design and R&D offices staffed by mass-transit loving Ivy League elites, producing an American Trabant, hobbled by all that emission control and safety crap, which will then become the only car you're allowed to buy. And chicks won't like it.

See, it's easy.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on June 28, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

So Republicans are saying, "Buy Foreign, Not American"? Would that be termed "Activist Patriotism"?

Since they are busy redefining the sancitity of marriage by having mistresses, FOREIGN ones at that, that they are also redefining patriotism is a given.

Posted by: Moxo on June 28, 2009 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Hewitt is actually right, but for the totally wrong reasons.

GM should fail, and the government should take its lumps for the way the bailout was handled. A Detroit bailout made sense if all three Detroit manufacturers needed it. The result now, however, is an extraordinary example of both assured inefficiency and moral hazard.

Ford was ahead of its Detroit brethern in greening its line, and in modernizing its design. Ford, while hardly a shining star, was managing its finances well enough that it did not need a bailout. But when the government gives Chrysler and GM billions, and then allows bankruptcy to restructure their contracts and wipe out their debts, how can Ford compete with that unless it goes through a bankruptcy it otherwise would not have needed? Ford may well need a bailout soon because, although it was "winning" before, it will find itself on vastly unequal financial footing with the companies the government weighed in with. We will end up spending more money than was necessary because we weakened what had been the strongest of the three companies. I'm sorry, that's just a bizarre way to run things. The only upside is that local Ford dealers here have been running ads "trust us for buying your next car - we're the non-bankrupt company!"

As other commenters have mentioned, Tesla got a loan ($460 million) to scale up production of the Model S and for battery R&D. Of course, that was actually the smallest loan under that program given to a presently producing car company. Nissan got the largest loan -- to convert a Georgia factory for production of a pure electric car that will initially be built only in Japan. (Ford - presumably in part a government make-good for the unfairness I described above - got a billion-plus to do smaller conversions of several different plants: a truck-to-car conversion, a hybrid/electric line conversion or two, and upgrading old manufacturing facilities to be more cost/energy/time efficient).

The Government should have bought Chrysler at street value, given Ford and GM the parts of Chrysler that best filled the holes in their lines in exchange for concessions, management change, and higher CAFE standards at Ford and GM, sold the rest of Chrysler on the market to recover some of the government's investment, and then made a huge aid package to Tesla and other wholly new, innovative manufacturers -- and let the new, revamped 2-company Detroit sink or swim.

I remain convinced that under that scenario, Ford would have come out just fine, even if GM did not. Bailing out industries is one thing, bailing out individual competitors in a market segment ("domestic auto manufacturing") is far too aggressive in picking winners and losers.

Posted by: zeitgeist on June 28, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, everything that you stated in this article would be true if Conservative's primary objective is what is good for America, but I've seen nothing in the 35 years I've been voting that makes me think they give a shit about what's good for America.
They care about what is good for their constituencies, the rich & the corporations who line their pockets.

Posted by: FitterDon on June 28, 2009 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

I am buying a new vehicle within the next 2 weeks. I have no reason to boycott GM, or any other American manufacturer but, effectively, I will be.

The repair records for the past ten model years of the type of vehicle I'm looking at is horrendous.

"Planned obsolescence" appears to be alive & extremely well, or else sheer incompetence at making cars has become an American "tradition."

I cannot afford to "buy American," regardless of my "patriotic desire."


Posted by: ROF on June 28, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

The Republican Anthem:

Partei! Partei Uber Alles!

Posted by: Singularity on June 28, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

This was the GOP way of destroying Unions. It has never been a secret that they didn't like labor unions.

If you look around, some areas already looks like it's a third world country.

People need to educate themselves on their representative - all you need to do is measure the bills/laws they support against their financial disclosure. This shows how much they are worth, their assets....

The financial disclosure must be filled out and disclosed every time they run for election/re-election. You can google this.

Posted by: annjell on June 28, 2009 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

It would also be a good idea to look up the WTO, see their impact on countries around the globe.

Posted by: annjell on June 28, 2009 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

"it's appropriate to root for failure. But it's even more striking to see some conservatives trying to actively ensure failure, regardless of the consequences for the country."

It IS appropriate to root for failure. And playing this bullshit patriotism card is manipulative garbage, no matter which team is doing it. (I remember indignant squeals from this site when the Repubs were doing it).

Whatever, go team.

Posted by: flubber on June 28, 2009 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

if anyone's interested...today's ny times magazine has a long article explaining how detroit and the unions help create the black middle class and how it's all fading away....

G.M., Detroit and the Fall of the Black Middle Class -- http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/28/magazine/28detroit-t.html?_r=1

Posted by: dj spellchecka on June 28, 2009 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Does it seem like the Repub nutjobs have applied a tourniquet around their neck to stop the bleeding?

One hopes they recover from their head wounds before they kill themselves.

Posted by: Glen on June 28, 2009 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

The RepoTaliban want GM to fail so they can blame Obama.
They are willing to destroy the company and put its empolyees permanelty out of work so that they can satisfy their bitch fit. And have that as a PR point for the next election.

Who's anti-American in this picture?

Posted by: Marnie on June 28, 2009 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK


Of course Hewitt and his masters and partners in industrial madness want Obama to fail.

Why else call for the boycott? Obamafail is the big Kahuna. Whoever plays a major role in it, will win big with LimpBaugh, McShame, McCrumple and Boner (what a great name for a law firm!).

Only Republicans could be so crass as to ignore the level of gloom, despair & misery they add to the burden of workers in the industry and all of the other industries that support them. For them, the bottom line is not pleasure or profit, but power.

Posted by: DougW on June 28, 2009 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

American jobs will be saved, and taxpayers get a return on their money

OK, so you are a few hundred thousand new car buyers in the upcoming years, and you have the alternatives of buying Fords made in the US, Hyundaes made in the US, Toyotas made in the US, Volkswagens made in the US, etc. Which auto purchases will actually save the largest number of American jobs and cost the taxpayers the least? Not to mention being the best value for you.

Ixnay on the word "boycott" -- that I agree with. But buying from GM hurts the American economy and American taxpayers more than buying an American-made auto from a less-subsidized company. I say "less subsidized" because Tesla and Ford have just received $500M and $5B federal grants for "research" on cars with good fuel efficiency. At least pending the results of the bankruptcy proceeding, with ongoing Congressional interference. There is a faint glimmer of hope that the GM restructuring won't cost Americans too much, but nobody should bet on it.

Posted by: marketeer on June 28, 2009 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

marketeer. The Japanese and European cars are merely assembled here. All the serious R&D is done at home. As much work is done back in Japan or Germany as is absolutely possible. The profits are funneled back home. Toyota, Honda and all the rest are supported by their home countries in ways that might make any good free marketeer cringe. I for one don't want to see America descend into third world status being exploited by foreign powers.

Why does the Republican party want America to fail?

That said, I am worried that the government's special treatment for GM might damage Ford and its workers, but I suspect that Ford will have a strong hand in negotiating going forward based on how the bankruptcy deals with legacy costs.

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 28, 2009 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers: The Japanese and European cars are merely assembled here. All the serious R&D is done at home. As much work is done back in Japan or Germany as is absolutely possible. The profits are funneled back home.

This is not completely true. Much research, design work and original manufacture are done here, and profits are reinvested here. And GM reinvests its profits in China, Brazil and Europe. You are correct that the picture is not simple.

Posted by: marketeer on June 28, 2009 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

The Repugs were against bailing out Detroit automakers last year because OF THE UNIONS.

This year, certain Repugs are for boycotting Detroit automakers, but especially GM, because THE UNIONS weren't marginalized and/or destroyed.

The Republican elite, the corporatists, hate UNIONS, they hate American workers, they hate raising the minimum wage...even though this anti-worker Republican elite, corporatist policy ends up hurting a whole lot of Republican workers and their families.

The Republican, the conservative corporatists, along with their Republican punditocracy, are fascist oligarchs, whose only purpose in life apparently is to suck as much gold as possible out of society for themselves, while giving everyone else the shaft.

Posted by: The Oracle on June 28, 2009 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

Citing Joe Scarborough indicates very narrow worldview. It might be time to put down the remote and pickup a book or two.

Posted by: grinning cat on June 28, 2009 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

All of the GM bashing here is just so much BS. Look at the lasts 2 JD Power surveys - Buick is tied with Jaguar for most reliable used car, ahead of all the Japanese (I'm kind of suprised that Jaguar did so well). In their latest new car rating, Toyota, Ford, Honda and Chevrolet are all within 4 problems per hundred vehicles of each other, a statistical tie - the average is 108 problems per hundred.

Posted by: Bob S, on June 29, 2009 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

Is this payback for the industrial midwest's going solidly for Obama in '08?

If it gives conservatives pleasure to shrink their coalition still further, more (or rather less) power to them.

If there are still any Reagan Democrats left, the collapse of GM, brought about by Republican vinditiveness, will lose every last one of them, IMO.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on June 29, 2009 at 6:14 AM | PERMALINK



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