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Romney condemns auto-industry rescue

Looking back over the last three years, there's arguably no better example of a policy Republicans got wrong than the rescue of the American auto
Romney still wishes policymakers had let Detroit go bankrupt.
Romney still wishes policymakers had let Detroit go bankrupt.

Looking back over the last three years, there's arguably no better example of a policy Republicans got wrong than the rescue of the American auto industry.

When President Obama launched his ambitious policy in 2009, he was taking a major gamble -- not only with the backbone of American manufacturing, but with his presidency and its ability to use the power of government to repair a private industry facing collapse. As First Read noted at the time, "As the GM bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency."

We now know the gamble paid off. Chrysler has posted its first profit in 15 years; GM is building new American facilities; and plants are operating at a capacity unseen in a long while. General Motors went from the brink of total failure to reclaiming its spot as the world's top automaker, and as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, "The auto industry hasn't just turned the corner. It's starting to accelerate."

Had it not been for the Obama administration's policy, these heartening headlines would have been impossible. And yet, Mitt Romney still isn't happy.

In a new Detroit News op-ed, the former Massachusetts governor says he's glad the industry still exists, but proceeds to complain anyway about the way in which Obama rescued GM and Chrysler from an imminent collapse.

Three years ago, in the midst of an economic crisis, a newly elected President Barack Obama stepped in with a bailout for the auto industry. The indisputable good news is that Chrysler and General Motors are still in business. The equally indisputable bad news is that all the defects in President Obama's management of the American economy are evident in what he did.Instead of doing the right thing and standing up to union bosses, Obama rewarded them.... By the spring of 2009, instead of the free market doing what it does best, we got a major taste of crony capitalism, Obama-style.

It takes a fair amount of chutzpah to face a crisis, get it wrong, then whine about the way in which the other guy got it right.

This is a subject Romney would be better off ignoring. After all, in 2009, he famously urged policymakers to "let Detroit go bankrupt." Romney was so certain Obama's policy would fail, he said Americans could "kiss the American automotive industry goodbye" if Obama's policy moved forward in 2009. Indeed, at the time, Romney called the administration's plan "tragic" and "a very sad circumstance for this country." He wrote an April 2009 piece in which he said Obama's plan "would make GM the living dead."

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know all of Romney's warnings were wrong. For him to double down today on the virtues of letting Detroit go bankrupt is just bizarre.

I'm reminded of this clip, which Democrats gleefully put together last summer.

Of particular interest is the last quote in the clip, in which a Chrysler executive responded to a Romney quote by saying, "Whoever told you that is smoking illegal material. That market had become absolutely dysfunctional in 2008 and 2009. There were attempts made by a variety of people to find strategic alliances with other car makers on a global scale and the government stepped in, as the actor of last resort. It had to do it because the consequences would have been just too large to deal with."

In other words, Romney wasn't just wrong; he was drug-addled wrong.

To be sure, the former governor wasn't the only Obama critic whose predictions now look foolish, but Romney is the one who still likes to pretend he was right.

Even the complaints themselves are strange. As Marcy Wheeler explained, Romney's "basically complaining that the bailout preserved the healthcare a bunch of 55+ year old blue collar workers were promised. He's pissed they got to keep their healthcare. He's also complaining that banks took a haircut."

I haven't talked to the White House about this, but I suspect if 2012 comes down to a debate over who was right about the auto-industry rescue, Obama likes his chances.