When the Obama administration scraped together votes and funds and continued the bail out of the auto industry, it created quite a stir among Republicans. Mitt Romney famously wrote opinion pieces urging the government to let go, to let the industry slide into bankruptcy. He was not alone. Resistance to the move was almost entirely from the GOP. The government was picking winners and losers. The expense was a waste that would ultimately cost taxpayers billions.
Paul Ryan's district was disproportionately affected, and he became one of the few Republicans to support the bailout when it was still the Bush bailout. It wouldn't have been hard to predict. He had lobbied Bush officials hard to save the GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. Bush Officials turned him down as President Bush shifted much of the auto bailout to save Wall Street firms. GM announced the Janesville plant would close in June 2008. The assembly line was stopped in December, leaving only a small skeleton crew to handle residual contractual obligations.
The bailout itself was somewhat misnamed. It was not a giveaway. It took the form of a series of loans. And those loans were conditional. Workers gave up a lot. Top executives were fired. Management was put under the gun to affect a turnaround.
And the interest rate was credit-card level high. The head of Chrysler apologized earlier this year for referring to "shyster loans" from the governments of the United States and Canada. A few months later, Chrysler paid back everything the company had borrowed from the taxpayers, and accomplished it 6 years earlier than planned.
Of five GM plants closed in 2008, two have been reopened. The Janesville plant remains closed. Representative Ryan attacked President Obama for that in his speech before the Republican National Convention. Delegates cheered, the television audience may have been momentarily swayed, and some news organizations called foul.
It was as documented an attempted deception as almost any this year. Did Paul Ryan really think nobody would notice that the plant was closed before President Obama took office?
Some bloggers have seized on the skeleton crew that remained into 2009 as evidence that the plant was technically open and didn't quite close until the new President was in charge. The Romney campaign apparently could not stomach that stretch. Instead, the campaign justifies the Ryan accusation on the basis of a promise to re-open the plant.
Candidate Obama said he would lead an effort to retool plants like the closing Janesville plant. Bloomberg Businessweek, along with other publications, carries the response of the campaign as articulated by Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck:
“The facts are clear: When the GM plant went on standby the president told the people of Wisconsin he would ‘lead an effort to retool’ it and restart production,” Brendan Buck, Ryan’s spokesman, said yesterday. “But when the bailout’s winners and losers were decided, Janesville ended up losing.”
An associate of Buck within the campaign points to a Michigan article that the colleague interprets as in turn interpreting Barack Obama's remarks as a guarantee to specifically reopen the Janesville plant, something that neither the original remarks nor the quoted article itself implied.
Some mainstream publications have struggled not to appear to be taking sides in calling out bold deceptions for what they are. The definition of balance in mainstream journalism is not so much holding everyone to the same standard as it is applying equal criticisms at both sides. This puts a toll on the reporting of truth and also makes for awkward moments.
But a few reporters are becoming a little more aggressive in going after more egregious falsehoods. Blaming the President for a plant closing that happened before he took office is hard to ignore.
They are right to report that. But I think the real story is in the defense of that deception. Essentially, the Romney/Ryan campaign is attacking the President for not quickly enough opening plants closed because of the Bush economic catastrophe.
That attack expands to the one quarter of the Romney campaign not based on flat-out falsehoods. The Romney case is that Obama has not yet affected a complete recovery from the Bush years. Their remedy is to revert to the Bush policies that brought on the crisis.
Comedian Chris Rock has it about right in his restatement of the Republican case: "This guy can’t cure cancer. I’m gonna vote for cancer."
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