Pandering politicians invariably oppose certain things, such as burning the flag, dealing drugs and raising taxes.
Oh yeah, and supporting the U.S. auto industry.
Republicans and Democrats are divided on many issues. The auto industry isn’t one of them.
With few exceptions, members of both parties seem to disdain one of the nation’s most important manufacturing and retailing forces, treating the auto industry like a parolee who needs close supervision.
I’m not saying the U.S. should emulate governments of other nations that have gone to extremes to aid and abet their domestic auto makers.
Japan did so by building tariff barriers that in their own way rivaled the Great Wall of China. South Korea at one time audited the taxes of citizens who didn’t buy domestic vehicles.
Nobody wants our government to go that far. But a show of support, even mere moral support, would be nice.
Instead, there’s much Detroit bashing from government people who are disturbingly ill-informed.
Tony Snow, George Bush’s former press secretary, spoke to the Consumer Bankers Assn.’s auto finance conference in San Francisco recently, giving his take on politics and revealing that President Bush in private is insightful and articulate.
I asked Snow why he supposes Detroit thinks Washington is so anti-auto industry.
“Because we won’t bail them out,” he says.
He contends domestic auto makers, using an obsolete business model, have locked themselves into unworkable labor contracts “and then come and ask us for help.”
The last time an auto company sought a so-called congressional bailout was in 1979 whenasked for a government loan, got it and paid it back early.
Seeking a bailout is not when the industry – including foreign auto makers – asks Congress to reconsider proposed fuel-economy and emission regulations that would require a miracle and a fortune to meet.
Snow, as a former member of an administration that has driven the U.S. deep into debt, says Detroit lacks the ability to hold down costs.
So how comemanaged to cut its operating costs by $9 billion in two years? Let’s see Washington do something comparable.
All three presidential candidates – John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – crow about how tough they are on the auto industry.
Their joint mantra is Detroit should build cars people want, not gas-guzzling SUVs.
The glory days may be over for big SUVs, but they had glory days because people did want them for more than a decade. That’s why every major Japanese and European auto maker built them, too. Now people want smaller cars. So the industry is making more of those.
Note to politicians: It’s a free-market economy.
On the campaign trail, Obama brags about giving ‘em hell when he told the Detroit Economic Club the auto industry needs to get with it and build more fuel-efficient cars.
“When I delivered that speech, no one clapped,” he says. (Yes they did, politely. Did he want a standing ovation?)
The three presidential hopefuls vow to let states set their own fuel-economy and emission standards. California wants to do that with the zeal of an action-movie character.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he told auto makers concerned about the prospects of stiff state regulations and short deadlines: “While you’re whining, you should be creating new technologies. That’s how you meet the date.”
Thanks for tips on how to achieve scientific breakthroughs from an officeholder who commutes to work by plane.
Fact is, I know many automotive people, from executives to engineers, who are passionate about building fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles. They’re spending billions of dollars on that.
If politicians want to put in their two cents, fine. But they shouldn’t grab the credit. And they shouldn’t pander for votes by acting like the car industry belongs on America’s most-wanted list.