There is the truth. Then there is the whole truth. Mitt Romney is still lagging behind the president in Ohio, the weather-vane state that has voted for every president since Abraham Lincoln and where Barack Obama is credited with saving millions of jobs in the auto industry. But the governor’s insistence in the second debate that Obama’s rescue of General Motors and Chrysler was the same as his plan was only half the story.
When Romney said “[W]hen you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did. … That was precisely what I recommended and ultimately what happened,” he was leading voters to believe there was little difference between restructuring by the federal government car czar Steve Rattner and his own prescription: to let the firms go bust, let the markets clear, then reassemble the broken parts.
Romney’s surrogates blame a headline in The New York Times, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”, over an op-ed by Romney in October 2008 for fueling confusion over where their candidate really stands. The opening lines appear to contradict their version. “If General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for,” he wrote, “you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.” He went on to argue for a managed bankruptcy, but was vague about the role federal officials should play.
In February, in the heat of the GOP primaries, when Romney needed to appease those who believe the “creative destruction” creed of Joseph Schumpeter, he expanded on his thinking in the Detroit News and derided the auto rescue as “crony capitalism,” a cozy collaboration between government and private enterprise much derided by the Koch brothers, major funders of Romney’s super PACS.
“Obama stepped in with a bailout for the auto industry,” Romney wrote. “[The] indisputable bad news is that all the defects in President Obama’s management of the American economy are evident in what he did.” Obama’s plan saved millions of jobs, not only in the auto industry, but in the parts suppliers, dealerships, and all those who service motor production – and the storekeepers, realtors, teachers, and so on, who depend upon them – and, by the way, not only in Ohio but in all the Great Lake states and way beyond. Romney’s sly suggestion now that you can’t slip a cigarette paper between his plan and Obama’s is, to put it politely, far-fetched.