“The Republican nominee sensibly argued that bankruptcy would force the city to go through a drastic — and necessary — restructuring of its finances,” the Tuesday editorial read. “Mr. Obama, on the other hand, boasted, ‘We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt. We bet on American workers … and that bet is paying off.’ Until Tuesday.”
The problem: the editorial writers mischaracterized how the issue was treated in the 2012 campaign. True, President Obama and Democrats hammered Romney for a 2008 New York Times column that ran under the now-infamous headline, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” But Romney’s column — and the ensuing Obama campaign criticism — centered around the restructuring (or “bailout”) of the auto industry.
Romney used “Detroit” as a metonym for the auto industry, something that’s obvious after reading the column’s first three paragraphs:
If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.
Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.
I love cars, American cars. I was born in Detroit, the son of an auto chief executive. In 1954, my dad, George Romney, was tapped to run American Motors when its president suddenly died. The company itself was on life support — banks were threatening to deal it a death blow. The stock collapsed. I watched Dad work to turn the company around — and years later at business school, they were still talking about it. From the lessons of that turnaround, and from my own experiences, I have several prescriptions for Detroit’s automakers.
The Washington Times editorial board wasn’t the only conservative voice to conflate the city of Detroit with the auto industry. Fox News Channel’s Ed Henry grilled White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday about the bankruptcy.
“Jay, is the President going to let Detroit go bankrupt?” Henry asked.
“Ed, I think that happened a while ago,” Carney responded.