Political Animal


June 04, 2011 8:55 AM Chrysler chief: Romney ‘smoking illegal material’

By Steve Benen

To say that Mitt Romney was wrong about the American automotive industry is a dramatic understatement. Two years ago, with the industry on the verge of collapse and at least a million American jobs on the line, the former governor said Detroit should “go bankrupt,” and told a national television audience that the entire auto industry was likely “to go out of business” as a result of President Obama’s rescue strategy.

Indeed, at the time, Romney called the administration’s plan “tragic” and “a very sad circumstance for this country.” He wrote another piece in which he said Obama’s plan “would make GM the living dead.”

We now know Romney was completely wrong (even though he’s now trying to take credit for the administration’s policy he trashed at the time). Yesterday, an industry leader explained this in colorful terms.

For those who can’t watch clips online, Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Fiat and Chrysler, was asked about Romney’s 2009 position. Marchionne told CNN in response, “Whoever told you that is smoking illegal material. That market had become absolutely dysfunctional in 2008 and 2009. There were attempts made by a variety of people to find strategic alliances with other car makers on a global scale and the government stepped in, as the actor of last resort. It had to do it because the consequences would have been just too large to deal with.”

In other words, Romney wasn’t just wrong; he was drug-addled wrong.

Indeed, Romney’s misguided approach continues to dog his campaign. He appeared on CBS’s “Early Show” yesterday and got a little testy when the subject of the auto industry came up. Given his record, I can’t say I blame Romney for wanting to avoid talking about this.

For his part, President Obama continues to see his success on this issue as something to be proud of, as evidenced by his weekly address this morning.

It’s not a bad message, and it’s worth needling Republicans for how badly they flubbed this crisis: “Today, each of the Big Three automakers — Chrysler, GM, and Ford — is turning a profit for the first time since 2004. Chrysler has repaid every dime and more of what it owes American taxpayers for their support during my presidency — and it repaid that money six years ahead of schedule…. Most importantly, all three American automakers are now adding shifts and creating jobs at the strongest rate since the 1990s…. We could have done [in 2009] what a lot of folks in Washington thought we should do — nothing. But that would have made a bad recession worse and put a million people out of work. I refused to let that happen.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • c u n d gulag on June 04, 2011 9:09 AM:

    Nothing describes today's Republican party quite as well as this:
    -smoking illegal material.
    -absolutely dysfunctional.

    Now, if only we could get the "serious" people in the media to realize this.

  • berttheclock on June 04, 2011 9:11 AM:

    Perhaps the saddest thing which can be said of Mitt is, "You, sir, are no George Romney".

  • hell's littlest angel on June 04, 2011 9:23 AM:

    I know he's a lot of other things (liar, coward, for instance), but Romney is the only Republican candidate out there who is not a fool, a crackpot or a hopeless dipshit. And yet, he has no chance of getting the nomination. This is why, when the Obama campaign calls, I tell them I'm only giving to candidates who need the money. I think I'm going to be as proud and happy in November of 2012 as I was in 2008.

  • AK Liberal on June 04, 2011 9:23 AM:

    The President has optimism and a success story. What's the GOP got? Personal grievance. Somebody got something I didn't get. I'm paying for something I don't like. That's it.

  • Brenna on June 04, 2011 9:40 AM:

    Yesterday, on cenk uygur's show, he had a conservative pundit on discussing the auto bailout. I don't remember his name, but he believed Obama should have let the auto industry declare bankruptcy so that the creditors could have gotten their fair share first.

    Cenk went crazy and said something like, "of course, give all the money to the rich people, let a million people lose their jobs. The rich should get everything."

    These conservatives don't even try to hide their blatant greediness. They DON'T care about average Americans. This is all about the money they feel entitled to.

    I'm pretty sure this going to bite them big time in the ass, but even if the corporations and billionaires paid NO taxes, there would be average people out there who would still vote for them, even though it's a vote against their basic interest. It's insane.

  • bob h on June 04, 2011 9:46 AM:

    There is a concensus of the cognoscenti that jobs are now the only thing that matters.

    But I would like to point out that we live in a dangerous, unstable world: militant-infested and nuclear armed Pakistan, the Afghan war, Arab revolutions, Iran seeking nuclear arms, North Korea,... It goes on and on. Do you really want to put all this in the hands of the provincial Romney, who only seems to know about American "exceptionalism"?

  • N.Wells on June 04, 2011 9:58 AM:

    Would it have killed Obama to say "We could have done [in 2009] what a lot of REPUBLICANS in Washington thought we should do - nothing"?
    Saying "a lot of folks in Washington" feeds the meme that all politicians are equally bad and equally to blame. Most voters DON'T know the extent of the bad choices by republicans, and need to hear about that at every opportunity.

  • beep52 on June 04, 2011 10:03 AM:

    Has anyone come across a reasonable, dispassionate, cost-benefit analysis of the Chrysler bailout?

    No offense to Steve, but most of what I've read either takes the administration at face value, or is so ideologically opposed as to be worthless.

  • Gandalf on June 04, 2011 10:35 AM:

    beep52 at 10:03 AM

    What is it with p[eople like you. Is everything about bean counting? So what are you saying? Fuck those peope and their families that work for those companies. No offens to you but is there a cost benefit analysis to justify you being alive on this planet?

  • jpeckjr on June 04, 2011 11:03 AM:

    @beep52: NPR's All Things Considered on June 3 interviewed the Washington bureau chief for the Detroit Free Press. NPR asked this question and he responded. I can't remember the details of the numbers -- you can accesss it yourself. His assessment is very helpful.

    A thorough, reasonable, dispassionate, cost benefit analysis would need to include the economic value of the jobs saved, the payroll taxes still being collected from people who still have jobs, the sales taxes being collected from purchases they make, the relative values of real estate in communities that have auto-related jobs that would have disappeared (including sales and repairs persons in dealerships across the country) -- why the list of factors just goes on and on!

    I just hate the economy is so damned complicated, don't you?

    Captcha code for this post: obvitsi stared. Obvitsi must be the Fiat accountant who is studying the Chrysler numbers.

  • N.Wells on June 04, 2011 11:28 AM:

    "President Bush opted to use $17 billion of TARP money to save General Motors and Chrysler. He basically threw the ball into the president's lap in January, and President Obama opted to put both GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy, add another $60 billion to that bailout and then restructured those companies in a very quick fashion...... In the case of Chrysler, government has agreed to sell its remaining stake in the company. As a result, the taxpayers will lose about 1.3 billion of the 12.5 billion invested in Chrysler. At current stock prices, the government would likely lose about $10 billion on the bailout of General Motors, so somewhere in the $14 billion range is what taxpayers ultimately will probably be on the hook for."

  • beep52 on June 04, 2011 11:45 AM:

    re: Gandalf 10:35 AM

    Take a pill, man.

    All I am interested is a reasonable assessment of what it really cost and how many jobs were saved.

    As jpeckjr suggests immediately after you, the reality is much, much more complex than anything I've heard or read by bailout opponents or supporters.

    If we knew, for example, that we invested $10M per job saved, we might question whether the bailout was the best way to save that job. If we found that it cost $10k to save each job, we might conclude that was a damned good deal.

    As for "people like you"(referring to me), it might calm you to know that I did not want to see the US auto industry go down, and favored the bailouts as the best and perhaps only responsible alternative at the time.

    Having lived in Pittsburgh and witnessed firsthand the damage caused by the demise of the US steel industry, I don't need a lecture on the importance of saving jobs. I'd just like to know how the bailouts really worked out.

    [jpeckjr: Thanks for the NPR tip -- will check if still it's online]

  • jpeckjr on June 04, 2011 12:23 PM:

    @N Wells: Thanks for posting the link to and quote from the NPR story. The entire story is worth listening to.

  • toowearyforoutrage on June 06, 2011 2:23 PM:

    It had to do it because the consequences would have been just too large to deal with.

    So it's not just banks that are "too big to fail".

    I prescribe the same cure as Bernie Sanders suggested for the banks.

    Bail them out. Fine.
    But any company that accepts government bailout funds because they're too big to fail should be broken into enough pieces so any subsequent failures will be met with death of that company.

    A transition of GM to independent Buick, Chevrolet, and Cadillac companies could mean a more resilient domestic automotive sector.

    3 solvent companies where 1 insolvent, dysfunctional one once stood.

  • Worker on August 04, 2011 4:42 PM:


    Perdonen, he quitado esta frase