Sunday, December 14, 2008


So the Senate Republicans killed the bailout of the Big Three. It's not quite mind-boggling, for a couple of reason. First, I can understand free-market ideologues being opposed to the government helping out companies in trouble - it's a direct challenge to their beliefs. Second, I can understand that the Big Three are about the least sympathetic basket cases out there. They have known that the Japanese were serious competitors for decades. They haven't done enough to build better cars or repair their reputation. At this point, some people think a rescue of Detroit would be a waste of money - what guarantee is there that they will actually return to profitability. And a number of the Senate Republicans are from Southern states with foreign car plants, but not American car company plants. They aren't hearing from American car company employees among their constituents.

But from a political perspective, this strikes me as incredibly stupid on the part of the Senate Republicans. The UAW folks are the original Reagan Democrats - blue collar workers who are culturally conservative. Does the GOP have any idea how many UAW guys are also hunters? For the last two or three or decades, a lot of heartland working class people voted Republican because of cultural issues. Democrats usually found this frustrating, because this meant that these blue-collar workers were also usually voting against their own economic self-interest. Bill Clinton got that and managed to connect with them, in part because his background was working poor. But many blue collar workers were also comfortably middle class, so the economic issues weren't as important. The UAW had done its job of fighting for its members extremely well.

In this case, however, the GOP is voting against the economic best interests of blue collar people in the heartland in about the strongest way imaginable. This isn't an esoteric debate about economic theories or future debt obligations. If GM goes down, there will be massive trauma across the Midwest. Even if Bush provides assistance, as he just about has to do, the political damage has been done. There are many people who oppose the bailout for legitimate reasons. They'll be happy that it went down.

But they will also forget. My guess is that most of the people opposed to the bailout of the Big Three also don't have a lot invested in it; they don't drive American cars, they don't know anyone who works for an American car company in any capacity. They've heard the reports about billions, and they don't want to see their tax dollars going to companies that have failed. Give them a couple of months, and something else will grab their attention. Vote on this issue? I doubt it.

People who are staring into the abyss of seeing themselves and many of the people they know lose their jobs are not, however, going to forget. For the UAW, this will be a defining issue for years. Of course, the UAW itself has been very much a stalwart of the Democratic party. Now, more than a few members who have strayed from the fold are going to return. This is a "you are with us or you are against us" moment.

It won't just be the UAW. The LA Times reported that, as anyone would expect, the Big Three gave a lot more campaign contributions to Republicans than to Democrats. And how did that $100 million investment in free market ideology/cocktail party invitations work out for you guys? Not so well. Ooops. So much for money buying influence.

I know car company executives. I know of some who are good liberals, but there are far more who are conservative Republicans. The same is true, of course, of the executives at their suppliers. They've seen a Republican administration trash the economy, run up massive debt, get us into a horrible war, and ignore the rule of law. For many people, the rejection of the bailout will be a tipping point. They will not forget. Nor will they forgive.

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