Newfound optimism was running high last week as the curtain went up on Detroit's annual North American International Auto Show. The champagne corks were popping, literally, as rejuvenated carmakers brought back the glitz and glamour to the annual winter confab where the newest models are unveiled, often in grand style.
In 2009, the same car show more closely resembled a public wake as two of the three big U.S. automakers, Chrysler and General Motors, were facing imminent collapse and had been forced to ask the government for bailout help. (Ford was bleeding money at the time, too.)
In his final weeks in office in late 2008, President Bush announced a $13 billion bailout in order to "avoid a collapse of the U.S. auto industry." Chrysler and GM then requested tens of billions more in order to stay in business. The new Democratic administration quickly agreed to a $50 billion bailout, provided GM and Chrysler oust their failed executives.
Far-right commentators, busy whipping up big-government hysteria for the emerging Tea Party movement, flipped out.
And From Michelle Malkin's blog:
But more about that later.
The good news for Detroit is that those dark days of 2009 are now just a memory, as the Los Angeles Times recently noted:
The hometown auto companies are on a roll. The three big Detroit carmakers all logged double-digit sales growth last year, helping to fuel a 10.3% increase in the auto industry's U.S. sales to 12.8 million vehicles, its best since 2008.
Individually, Chrysler posted a 26 percent sales increase last year, General Motors business was up 13 percent, and Ford sales bumped up 11 percent. Based on last year's strong fourth quarter, when sales jumped 14 percent, analysts are predicting more good news in 2012.
And that means more jobs. In a report last year, the White House claimed more than one million auto industry-related jobs would have been lost if GM and Chrysler had not been saved. Automakers recently announced plans to hire or rehire at least 25,000 workers in the next three years.
Who's to thank for the turn around? The government, say industry experts:
"It's been a phenomenal turnaround for the Big Three," Michelle Krebs, an analyst with researcher Edmunds.com, said in an interview. "Chrysler and GM have the American taxpayer to thank for that, but in the end, it's been a good investment."
Besides Detroit's foreign competitors, who's the big loser in this stunning sales turnaround? The conservative media, which mocked and attacked the bailout as a sure-fire socialist failure.
Go back to early 2009 as Obama settled into the White House, and if there was one thing his media opponents were sure of, it is that his decision to bailout out carmakers would result in a guaranteed big- government fiasco.
Not surprisingly, as the double-digit sales gains now get posted, we don't hear so much from the right-wing press about the bailout, and from far-right town criers who so confidently predicted (and rooted for?) an American failure in Detroit.
Truth is, the conservatives' relentless piling on of the bailout, and by extension U.S. autoworkers, represented a particular low point of the opinion press during Obama's early days in office. Looking back, it's clear how wrongheaded their claims were and how little they understood the auto industry, or economics for that matters. But of course, that didn't stop key players from unleashing wild, name-calling attacks about the president as his administration maneuvered to try to save the U.S. auto industry.
Do you recall their unhinged fury as the bailout was implemented? Limbaugh rang phony alarms over what he claimed was the unrestrained power of the new thuggish administration. Malkin likened the Detroit deal to a "crap sandwich," and a "lemon" the U.S. taxpayers would be stuck with "for life." Mocking the president, she announced "a community organizer is now auto-exec-in-chief," while chiding Democrats for committing "mass vehicular homicide."
On Fox News, Glenn Beck said the bailout reminded him of "the early days of Adolf Hitler." Beck's hysterical colleague Sean Hannity condemned Obama for engaging in what Hannity called a"mission to hijack capitalism."
And then there were the fantastic bailout conspiracies.
Remember the one about how Obama had personally decided which GM dealership were shut down as part of restructuring (he did not, by the way) and had vindictively targeted dealers who had donated to the Republican Party? Malkin actively pushed that Obama fantasy on Fox News, where hosts such as Neil Cavuto had lost touch with common sense while hyping the hollow tale.
Here's Malkin pushing the "Dealergate" story while denouncing Obama's "Chicago Gangland tactics":
Late last year, Malkin was also busy griping about another elaborate bailout plot. ("Brass knuckles intimidation"!) This one centered around the phony claim that White House thugs had pressured Ford into taking off the air a television commercial that made reference to the fact U.S. competitors GM and Chrysler had received bailout assistance.
True? "False," in the words of Ford's CEO.
There were all sorts of reasons to debate the auto bailout in 2009, and the issue represented an authentic American crisis that required serious discussion. Unfortunately, a media movement led by Fox, Limbaugh, and Malkin is incapable of hosting a serious debate.