Friday, December 19, 2008

The One-Month Band-Aid

It seems like only yesterday (probably because it was) that President George W. Bush was, as Jennifer Loven put it in her Associated Press dispatch, "looking at 'orderly' bankruptcy as a possible way to deal with the desperately ailing U.S. auto industry," because he "didn't want to leave a mess for Barack Obama" (as if the automobile industry crisis were the only mess worthy of such consideration). Well, according to the latest report from Associate Press Writer Deb Riechmann, such considerations for the President-Elect no longer have such priority:

Citing danger to the national economy, the Bush administration came to the rescue of the U.S. auto industry Friday, offering $17.4 billion in emergency loans in exchange for concessions from the deeply troubled carmakers and their workers.

At the same time, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Congress should authorize the use of the second $350 billion from the financial rescue fund that it approved in October to rescue huge financial institutions. Tapping the fund for the auto industry basically exhausts the first half of the $700 billion total, he said.

President Bush said, "Allowing the auto companies to collapse is not a responsible course of action." Bankruptcy, he said, would deal "an unacceptably painful blow to hardworking Americans" across the economy.

One official said $13.4 billion of the money would be available this month and next, $9.4 billion for General Motors Corp. and $4 billion for Chrysler LLC. Both companies have said they soon might be unable to pay their bills without federal help. Ford Motor Co. has said it does not need immediate help.

Once again, as the Bush Administration continues to play their strategic games by the same rules that have yet to yield any substantive results, we see that the President's "way with words" runs the full gamut from hollow rhetoric to egregiously deceptive fiction. Riechmann even bothered to emphasize that yesterday's language was worth little more than used toilet paper:

Bush's plan is designed to keep the auto industry running in the short term, passing the longer-range problem on to the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Ironically, the Yahoo! News Web page with Riechmann's story includes a hyperlink to Associated Press video footage of Henry Paulson extolling the virtues of an "orderly" approach to bankruptcy to attendees of the BusinessWeek 92Y event last night. Do you suppose any of this will cure the Republicans of their knee-jerk invocation of the phrase "flip-flop" whenever a Democrat announces a change in strategy?

Perhaps Obama had such shallow name-calling in mind when he decided to make a serious effort at forming a bipartisan Cabinet. He may well recognize the spirit behind the blog post I wrote back in March entitled "Too Many Crises?" When we consider how much has happened recently, it is painfully ironic to think that nine months ago we already thought we were up to our eyeballs in alligators! A bipartisan team may be the best way to send the message to both Republicans and Democrats that we are all in the same boat, and we still have not controlled the rate at which it is taking on water. Obama can demonstrate that, unlike Bush, he not only understands the meaning of the word "uniter" but also intends to throw his heart and soul into taking that meaning seriously. His first step has already been taken through his commitment to recognize that unity requires honoring "diverse and noisy and opinionated" differences, rather than dismissing them in the interests of ideology. This mindset may not be sufficient for keeping the boat from sinking and getting it back on course, but there is no doubt that it is necessary.

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