From The Washington Post --- July 30, 2010:
By Michael D. Shear and Peter Whoriskey
Obama touts auto bailout during Michigan trip
DETROIT -- The government's bailout of the American auto industry last year sparked political hand-wringing about the end of capitalism and allegations that President Obama aspired to be CEO of what critics dubbed "Government Motors."
After the president forced the firing of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, Republican Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) proclaimed Obama's actions "truly breathtaking" and said the government ownership roles at Chrysler and GM "should send a chill through all Americans who believe in free enterprise."
But a year and a half later, many of the critics have retreated from their sharpest attacks as they watch the auto industry once again turn a profit and begin adding jobs in communities such as Detroit, which desperately need them.
Obama's visit to a Chryster plant in Detroit Friday was designed as a victory rally -- complete with campaign-style trappings -- an "I told you so" event aimed squarely at his Republican critics who had attacked the auto bailouts as government takeovers.
A feisty Obama was welcomed with loud applause by about 1,500 auto workers inside the plant that makes the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a vehicle the president said was the first new car he ever owned. If his critics had won, he said, the plant would have been shuttered and dark.
"If some folks had their way, none of this would be happening," he said, calling out the "leaders of the 'just say no crowd' in Washington" and sparking loud boos from the crowd when he added that "one of them called it the worst investment we could make."
There's no satisfying some, like radio host Rush Limbaugh, who this week referred to GM as Obama Motors. And the auto turnaround is not enough to fix places like Detroit, where 30 percent unemployment has ravaged the city like few others in the United States.
But as Obama arrived here Friday to trumpet the industry's progress, Corker refrained from saying that the bailouts were bad for the country. He says the administration's methods were "heavy-handed" but also takes credit for helping to shape the bailout. He prodded the Obama administration to force the companies to lessen their debt and achieve a more favorable union agreement.
"The ideas we laid out there were followed through," Corker said in an interview. "I take some pleasure out of helping make that contribution. . . . I think what we did is we forced a debate and we forced a hard look at these companies."
When it comes to critics who continue to condemn the bailout, the White House is not in a forgiving mood. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that critics such as Limbaugh were willing to forsake auto workers just at the time they needed help the most.
"I'll let those that sat in the cheap seats a year and a half ago and wanted to walk away from a million [jobs] explain to every one of those workers why they made that decision," Gibbs told reporters. Then he added: "Ask Mr. Limbaugh -- I don't know what kind of car he drives, but I bet it's not an [Ford] F-150."
Sharp words aside, the White House is eager to tell a success story ahead of the congressional midterm elections this fall. The president's Friday visit and another to a Ford plant outside of Chicago next week are intended to tell that story more widely to potential voters.
The president started at Chrysler's Jefferson North plant, where Jeep Grand Cherokees are being built, and then toured a GM plant which will produce the company's first electric car, the Volt. Both are churning out cars, adding shifts of workers and helping to keep suppliers in business across the Rust Belt.
"In the year before these bankruptcies, these companies lost almost 340,000 jobs," said Ron Bloom, the administration's top auto official. "In the year since then, 55,000 jobs have been added to these companies. If we hadn't stepped in when we did, most observers believe at least a million jobs would have been lost."
Previewing both the substance and intensity of his campaign-year rhetoric, Obama made clear Friday that he will use the success of the auto turnaround as a centerpiece of the argument that his economic policies have created an economic recovery.
"Don't bet against the American worker," he said, his voice rising over the cheers from the audience. "Don't bet against the American people. We've got some more work to do. It's going to take some time to get back to where we want to be, but I have confidence in the American worker...I have confidence in this economy. We are coming back."
That message, in particular, was received well in the cavernous assembly plant, where many of the workers described a welcome turnaround in morale from a year or two ago, when scared workers took buyouts, fearing the end was near.
"The morale is different now," said Erik Williams, 38, who has worked at the plant since 1994. "When you know you are on the brink and you come back from that, it puts it in a different perspective."
Several of the plant workers said Obama deserves much of the credit for believing in the industry and it's employees.
"I've been here 16 years and last year was the worst year of my life. it was terrible," said James Tiedt, 39. He said he almost lost his house to foreclosure last year but was saved by one of the government's housing programs. Of Obama, he added: "He's the man."
In fact, the auto industry bailout Obama launched may be ranked as the largest single jobs program undertaken by the administration.