A Foreign Policy Debate About Ohio

I want to start out by saying, about last night’s debate and about the campaign in general, that we have never—never, absolutely never—seen a candidate like Mitt Romney.

It is amazing to me that President Obama was able to decisively—it wasn’t even close, folks, and the flash polls show it—win the debate, considering what he was up against. How do you debate Sybil? How do you debate someone with multiple personalities, any one of which might appear out of nowhere and then disappear, replaced by yet another? How do you conduct a debate with someone like that?

How do you even prepare for a debate with someone who can convincingly (but only for those low-information voters who don’t pay attention) pretend that whatever he has said prior to the debate he didn’t say? How do you debate someone so willing to abandon the neoconservative philosophy, dangerous to the core, that won him the Republican nomination?

Romnesia, indeed.

The Mitt Romney who spoke last night, the one who was sitting in that chair getting schooled by the real Commander-in-Chief, was not the tough-talking, warmongering cowboy we have seen on the campaign trail or the one endlessly and falsely criticizing the President’s policies on right-wing TV and radio.

Nope. The Romney who sat there last night actually agreed with just about everything President Obama has done abroad, despite the fact that conservatives, including Romney, have said time and again that the President was “in over his head.” They have said that he has had a disastrous foreign policy, messed everything up, made us weaker before our foreign friends and enemies, and thus made us less safe.

All that was washed away last night as Mitt Romney essentially endorsed President Obama’s handling of world affairs.  He agreed with the progress that has been made, agreed with the goals going forward, and tried to piggyback on the Commander-in-Chief’s sober, thoughtful approach. Romney was so much in accord with the President that it made some conservatives nervous. Glenn Beck sarcastically tweeted at a couple of points:

I am glad to know that mitt agrees with Obama so much. No, really. Why vote?…He is not hitting anywhere.  Is this to make him not scary?  He is scaring me.

Of course, it doesn’t take much to scare Glenn Beck, a little sanity will do the job, but his comment does show that the right-wing’s distrust of their champion is still alive and well.

But more important than Romney’s snuggling up with Obama’s handling of national security and foreign policy, was Mittens’ attempt to agree with the President’s decision to bail out GM and Chrysler. Because Ohio is such a critical battleground state, this part of the debate may actually turn out to have the biggest effect on the outcome of the election, and the President wouldn’t let Romney get away with his lie on this issue.

It came up during a discussion on China, and I will provide an extensive excerpt to show how rattled Romney was:

MR. ROMNEY:…I want a great relationship with China. China can be our partner. But — but that doesn’t mean they can just roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Governor Romney’s right. You are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas, because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas. And, you know, that’s your right. I mean, that’s how our free market works.

But I’ve made a different bet on American workers. You know, if we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry, we’d be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China…

MR. ROMNEY: I just want to take one of those points. Again, attacking me is not talking about an agenda for getting more trade and opening up more jobs in this country. But the president mentioned the auto industry and that somehow I would be in favor of jobs being elsewhere. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars. And I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry. My plan to get the industry on its feet when it was in real trouble was not to start writing checks. It was President Bush that wrote the first checks. I disagree with that. I said they need — these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, and in that process they can get government help and government guarantees, but they need to go through bankruptcy to get rid of excess cost and the debt burden that they’d — they’d built up.

And fortunately the president picked —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor Romney, that’s not what you said.

MR. ROMNEY: Fortunately, the president — you can take — you can take a look at the op-ed.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, you did not —

MR. ROMNEY: You can take a look at the op-ed.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You did not say that you would provide, Governor, help.

MR. ROMNEY: You know, I’m — I’m still speaking. I said that we would provide guarantees and — and that was what was able to allow these companies to go through bankruptcy, to come out of bankruptcy. Under no circumstances would I do anything other than to help this industry get on its feet. And the idea that has been suggested that I would liquidate the industry — of course not. Of course not.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let’s check the record.

MR. ROMNEY: That’s the height of silliness.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let’s — let’s check the record.

MR. ROMNEY: I have never said I would — I would liquidate the industry. I want to keep the industry growing and thriving.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, the people in Detroit don’t forget.

MR. ROMNEY: And — and that’s I have the kind of commitment to make sure that our industries in this country can compete and be successful. We in this country can compete successfully with anyone in the world. And we’re going to. We’re going to have to have a president, however, that doesn’t think that somehow the government investing in — in car companies like Tesla and — and Fisker, making electric battery cars — this is not research, Mr. President. These are the government investing in companies, investing in Solyndra. This is a company. This isn’t basic research. I — I want to invest in research. Research is great. Providing funding to universities and think tanks — great. But investing in companies? Absolutely not. That’s the wrong way to go.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, the fact of the matter is —

MR. ROMNEY: I’m still speaking.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well — (chuckles) —

MR. ROMNEY: So I want to make sure that we make — we make America more competitive —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.

MR. ROMNEY: — and that we do those things that make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, innovators, businesses to grow. But your investing in companies doesn’t do that. In fact it makes it less likely for them to come here —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, Governor —

MR. ROMNEY: — because the private sector’s not going to invest in a — in a — in a solar company if —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’m happy — I’m — I’m — I’m happy to respond —

MR. ROMNEY: — if you’re investing government money and someone else’s.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You’ve held the floor for a while. The — look, I think anybody out there can check the record. Governor Romney, you keep on trying to, you know, airbrush history here. You were very clear that you would not provide government assistance to the U.S. auto companies even if they went through bankruptcy. You said that they could get it in the private marketplace. That wasn’t true. They would have gone through a—

MR. ROMNEY: You’re wrong. You’re wrong, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I — no, I am not wrong.

MR. ROMNEY: You’re wrong.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I am not wrong. And —

MR. ROMNEY: People can look it up. You’re right.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: People will look it up.

MR. ROMNEY: Good.

Of course Romney doesn’t really want folks to look it up. If people spent time looking up things he said, he’d be toast. But we’ll look it up in a minute. First, though, let’s look at what Romney did in this exchange.

Notice how he tried to steer the conversation away from the President’s criticism of his position on the auto bailout. He tried to bring up carmakers Tesla and Fisker and, for God’s sake, Solyndra, the former solar panel maker. That demonstrated Obama had struck a nerve.

But notice, too, that Romney admitted something very important related to the bailout of GM and Chrysler, and all those jobs people now have in Ohio because of that bailout:

Providing funding to universities and think tanks — great. But investing in companies? Absolutely not. That’s the wrong way to go.

Investing in companies is the wrong way to go, he said. Investing in companies like GM and Chrysler, then, was the wrong way to go. Nothing could be clearer than that, all you folks in Ohio who still have jobs in the auto industry. Romney thought that was “the wrong way to go.”

Now, let’s look up what President Obama wanted us to look up and what Romney hopes we won’t. Let’s look at that famous “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” editorial in The New York Times. The first two sentences of the piece went like this:

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.

Hmm. Bailout = end of auto industry. He wrote that. And he wrote,

Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.

Ouch.

Romney tried to argue during last night’s debate that he “would provide guarantees” that would “allow these companies to go through bankruptcy, to come out of bankruptcy.”  Those guarantees, though, were for private money, for “post-bankruptcy financing,” as he said in the Times article. The problem, as everyone knew at the time, was that there was no post-bankruptcy, private financing available. No one wanted to invest a dime in the companies, which is why the government, if it wanted to save all those jobs, had to step in.

And that is why Romney is having a hard time convincing folks in Ohio and elsewhere, folks who have a paycheck today thanks to the government bailout of the auto industry, that they should trust him with their futures. He got it wrong when it counted most for them.

But Mitt Romney did get one thing right in that op-ed article in The New York Times, although not quite in the way he envisioned it. He said that unless things were done his way—the Romney way—regarding the automakers, “the federal government would…seal their fate with a bailout check.”

Yes, that’s right. The fate of a million, perhaps one and a half million, folks who have jobs today was sealed with that bailout check, a check that a President Romney would never have written.

You got that, Ohio?

10 Comments

  1. Nicely told, Duane. Mutable Mitt is hoist on his own petard in this one, out of his depth, while Barack Obama made me proud. For a guy of whom it was gibingly said, ” . . . had to be taught how to salute”, the president has made the most of his on-the-job training and come through with flying colors, an iron fist in a velvet glove. We need not accede to Bibi’s demand for a red line date for Iran’s cooperation, as Romney advises. To do that would just hamstring future options and commit us to another war. The president’s steady and effective deployment of drone technology and commitment to economic sanctions and rational planning sends the proper message, IMHO. What we do not need is more cowboy diplomacy.

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    • Anonymous

       /  October 23, 2012

      Best tweet of the night came from Bill Maher: “Mitt Romney’s entire debate strategy seems to be – YEAH, WHAT HE SAID, ONLY FROM A WHITE GUY.”

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  2. Jim, so well said!
    Duane, I have followed the automobile “bail out” all along, for many reasons. One, I am somewhat in agreement with Romney (hang on, don’t hate…) about labor and benefits costs and how they are reflected in the price of the finished product. How can American companies possibly compete with countries whose cost of living is a tiny fraction of ours? I am also unsure of the necessity of labor unions in our country – are they outdated since so much legislation has been passed throughout the years that protects workers? I am really on the fence about this and worry that the cost of unions is hurting us in the long run.
    So, I called a close friend of mine who worked in the finance department at GM for 20 years and now does consulting and whose wife is VP of marketing for Corvette (my friends all have such cool jobs). I asked him about all of these things, and whether or not he thought it was the government’s responsibility to help the car companies (let us not forget that the Big Three had been suffering for quite some time before they finally came to the government for help) or if Gov. Romney was correct in his assertion that they should just be left alone. He gave me quite a lesson, and I’m glad I called him. First, he said Mitt’s dad would be “rolling in his grave if he knew his son had taken such a stance on the industry that helped build this country.” Second, he explained to me that ALL foreign car companies are heavily subsidized by their governments – which is a big reason why they are so less expensive. Lastly, he explained our tariffs are not high enough to offset this disparity in prices (and it has been a long time since I studied such things in business school, so I’m going to admit I don’t know the logistics involved with government tariffs and trade agreements). All in all, it was very informative and I finally understood the gravity of what was at stake and why, in the end, the federal government moved forward with the decision to help these companies. And, thank God they did. I believe the companies paid back the government in, what, two years? Eighteen months? Something like that (go ahead, I know some of you will look it up and let me know if I’m wrong. It’s cool). The point is, it seems to me that if one side is going to accuse the other about “unacceptable unemployment rates”, why, then, would they also accuse those same decision makers about programs that helped people keep their jobs? (And this also goes to the stimulus program – during the time of that program I read about – and personally knew – many people who were able to keep their jobs for at least 18 months longer because of the program. We knew it wasn’t going to be the end all to be all, but it was a panacea we needed during a time when the bottom, for many, was dropping out.) The point, I think, in all of this is, did anyone really think that the dramatic downward spiral that we faced in 2008 would be 100% fixed in just a couple years? Isn’t it good that we are so far away from that point that we’ve forgotten how dire things were in Sept. 2008? No matter who wins in a couple weeks, I honestly think we cannot afford to make drastic changes from the direction we are headed – and we need to practice a little bit more patience in this instant-gratification world we are living in.
    There, now I’ve just written an entire blog post.
    And I’m really not that interested in national politics….(-:

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    • Dawn,

      Thanks first for the time you took to write this “blog post,” which I found very interesting. And thanks for taking the time to call your friend formerly in GM’s finance department, who essentially confirmed that Romney’s plan would not have worked to save the car companies.

      As for the car company bailouts, according to ProPublica, they amounted to almost $80 billion, which represents only about 13% of the total bailout money (a little over $603 billion) provided to banks, financial firms, Fannie and Freddie, and AIG. There was also a little money allocated for purchases of toxic assets.

      And while the government has been paid back by the auto companies, some of that payment was in stock, the value of which is not yet sufficient to cover the entire amount of the bailout. Thus, even though GM and Chrysler paid back their loans early—they had until 2015 to pay them back—the government still hasn’t recovered all the bailout money because it owns about 500 million shares of GM stock (a little more than a fourth of the company), which is not trading all that high right now, due to many factors, among them the problems in Europe, which are hurting car sales.

      But I want to address something else you wrote, which is personally important to me and which I believe is important:

      I am somewhat in agreement with Romney (hang on, don’t hate…) about labor and benefits costs and how they are reflected in the price of the finished product. How can American companies possibly compete with countries whose cost of living is a tiny fraction of ours? I am also unsure of the necessity of labor unions in our country – are they outdated since so much legislation has been passed throughout the years that protects workers? I am really on the fence about this and worry that the cost of unions is hurting us in the long run.

      Dawn, what is hurting us now, as well as in the long run, is that union membership in America is on the decline. We need more union membership, not less. We have discussed on this blog the correlation between declining union membership and declining middle class wages. It is stunning.

      And you may think that “so much legislation has been passed throughout the years that protects workers,” but much of that too-inadequate legislation has been weakened by Republicans both at the federal level (through their appointments to the NLRB, for instance, which is partly why I finally abandoned conservatism during the early Bush years) and at the state level (here in Missouri, workers compensation laws have been so skewed against the workers that many people don’t even bother to file claims).  If Republicans have their way, collective bargaining for public-sector workers will be a thing of the past, and who knows how far behind will be bargaining in the private sector.

      I am a former president of my local union and a union activist. And I must tell you that the anti-union propaganda in this country, particularly around this area, is not only offensive, it is hurtful to workers and to the country. Workers desperately need to organize and bargain collectively, to get the share of the economic pie they deserve. This is a wealthy country. Businesses are doing very well, thank you. Large corporations are sitting on lots of cash. Workers deserve more than they are getting.

      We simply can’t continue having such a disparity as we have between the rich and the non-rich in America. It will eventually destabilize our democracy, as it did in the late 19th and early 20th century, and as it has done in countless countries around the world. And union membership, which means collective bargaining, is the only way that workers can effectively use their labor to make demands of decency both in the workplace and in society and thus bring a little more balance between the haves and have nots.

      I will briefly address your concerns about “how can American companies possibly compete with countries who cost of living is a tiny fraction of ours.”  Of course we can’t compete with, say, Bangladesh, in terms of producing certain goods. Those low-skilled jobs are long gone and are not coming back. But we can compete in other areas, just as Germany, which is unionized at more than twice the rate of the U.S., does. That will require a better-educated workforce, one trained for high-paying, high-tech jobs for instance. You may know that union workers generally are the best trained and most productive workers in the world and bring a professionalism to the job that is second to none. So, unionizing the workforce to a higher degree will not in any way hurt America’s ability to compete.

      But I want to end this reply by saying a lot of people feel the way you do about unions, but lack any first-hand experience with them. I would only ask that you think of what the implications of decreased union membership (and thus, as I have said, decreased wages and benefits) would mean. Do we want to become a low-wage, low-benefit country? Do we want to lose our high standard of living? Do we want all of our jobs to be Walmart like? Some Walmart workers have to get public assistance in order to get by. Thus, Walmart, which earns billions of dollars each year in profit, is being subsidized by taxpayers, in the sense that they are not paying their workers a living wage and benefits.

      As ABC News reported a couple of years ago, the CEO of Walmart earns about as much in one bleeping hour as his employees earn in one year. And many of those employees qualify for government assistance, as I said. Something is wrong with that picture, Dawn. And unions can help fix it. Do you think retailers like Walmart can ship their jobs to China? No, they can’t.

      Sorry for the length of this, but as I said unionism is dear to my heart and represents the only way up into the middle class for lots of folks, the folks who have made this the greatest country, the greatest economic power, in the history of the world.

      Duane

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  3. writer89

     /  October 23, 2012

    Here’s the relevant portion of Romney’s statement about the auto bailout: “they need to go through bankruptcy to get rid of excess cost and the debt burden that they’d… built up.” The “excess cost” he’s talking about is labor costs, and the “debt burden” is the worker pension program. A traditional bankruptcy would probably have voided the union contract and relieved the auto companies of the burden of paying their retirees as they agreed. All the Republican talk about Obama “playing favorites” in the bailout was specifically directed at the fact that Obama’s approach kept the unions in the picture. Romney and the Republicans wanted just one thing — the destruction of the unions. Nobody is talking about this, because the Republicans don’t want to admit it to their blue-color racist supporters, and the Democrats think there’s too much anti-union feeling in America today. What a shame, after all the unions did to help create the middle class. But you can’t understand this argument without understanding the role of the unions.

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    • My friend, you’ve got it exactly right.

      Like

      • writer89

         /  October 24, 2012

        Hardly anybody else is talking about that. Even Rachel didn’t say anything about it when she was on Letterman last night and was asked about it. As always, it takes somebody who knows how the other guys think to interpret what they really mean! And now I see the Republicans are complaining because the bailout protected the UAW workers’ pensions, but not the non-union “white collar” workers. Hey, not fair! Oops, maybe they should have formed a union when they had a chance…

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  4. Duane, I knew you would provide a good lesson on unions, which is kind of why I wrote that comment🙂 To provide a little background, the friend I referred to above, Scott, and I both graduated from the same business school (the University of Florida). He chose to go work for the car companies – which was always his goal – and I chose to work in management at a different type of big corporation – Walmart. I was one of 12 interns selected for their 2nd year of the program at the home office and then went to work for them in Kansas City when I graduated. Needless to say, I did not receive an unbiased education in the value of unions for our work force. It is this ideology that I struggle with, and also why, at first reading, I thought Gov. Romney’s idea for the car companies seemed plausible. I know, from speaking to many different people with differing views, that anti-union thinking is flawed. But it is hard to shake that indoctrination! Which is EXACTLY why I contacted Scott. As a businessman with extensive experience in the American car industry, I felt he would provide a sound, sane perspective both about the role of unions as well as the role of the government during this crisis I was right and my opinion about the government’s involvement with the car companies changed dramatically after that conversation. I have also changed my views about unions in today’s workplace. But it has taken many years of distance from Corporate America Management and lots of conversations for this evolution to take place (as I’m sure you can understand). Still, I am always asking about unions and their relevancy in today’s environment because I have found, as you illustrated, that too many of us don’t really understand their value to the worker. Too often we look at union bosses and their negotiating power as something bad – conveniently forgetting that corporate leaders often look at their most important commodity – their workforce – as nothing more than numbers and statistics, and the resulting “cost” to their bottom line. What has happened to Walmart employees saddens me. That company was built on hard work and dedication, but it also once was a company that strongly believed in generously compensating employees for their efforts toward the company’s success. I’d like to defend them because my time at the home office was nothing short of amazing, but, the truth is, it has long been a company with less-than-desirable work conditions. Which is why I didn’t last more than a year in the stores. Some day MAYBE corporations will focus more on the importance of a qualified, properly-compensated workforce and its correlation to a company’s success, but I doubt it. And that, combined with the information you provided above, is why my attitude toward unions has changed considerably. I think, with both parties (corporate management and union reps) we must listen carefully to the issues being presented before making a quick judgement one way or the other.
    As a side note, one of the things I find most interesting about your blog is the fact that you worked as a union rep while still considering yourself a staunch conservative. This info really caught my attention, and I find your insight and experience incredibly informative. Again, I like to get as much information as possible from personal perspectives before making a decision, and I find you provide much-needed factual, and anecdotal, information that allows readers the opportunity to make sound, logical, intelligent decisions. Kudos to you for sharing your viewpoints in such an intelligent and well thought-out manner.

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    • Dawn,

      I am sorry it took so long to respond to the informative comment you made here. I hope folks take the time to read what you wrote. The rational way you go about understanding the issues is so rare these days. Kudos back at you for that breath of fresh air. And your comments about Walmart, as one who worked for the company, are priceless.

      I had the following quote by the great Frank Lloyd Wright sitting on my desk while I was a union “thug” (that is how a local blogger refers specifically to me and other union officials), which helped me, when I was transitioning away from my conservative convictions:

      If capitalism is fair, then Unionism must be. If men have a right to capitalize their ideas and the resources of their country, then that implies the right of men to capitalize their labor.

      As a thoroughgoing believe in the power of capitalism (regulated, of course) to make people’s lives better, I took that quote seriously, and the idea behind it helped me overcome all the anti-union propaganda I learned in my education as a conservative. Unions would not be needed in a comprehensive socialist system, only in a capitalist one. Thus, strong unions are indicative of a strong capitalist system.

      That having been said, can unions overplay their hand? Of course they can, and some have done so. Unions must always be mindful that they are partners in the well-being of the company, and if management took that partnership aspect seriously, then I think both parties could work together better than they do to look out for the long-term interests of the company (or agency, as in my case). Too often, though, instead of partnership, the nature of the labor-management relationship is adversarial. That often leads to extremism on both sides.

      In any case, thanks for the excellent response and forgive me for taking days to respond.

      Duane

       

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