It is the political season, a time for voters to be wary of candidates telling whoppers. Here's one: Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney now says he saved the auto industry and that the Obama administration followed his advice. This is the same candidate who wanted to let the auto companies slide into immediate bankruptcy and criticized the administration's bailout during the Republican primary. Romney is shifting toward a general election strategy, and voters should be alert for such revisionist history.
GM and Chrysler faced financial ruin in late 2008. The collapse of the companies would have set off a domino effect of more than 1 million lost jobs. Only an infusion of $82 billion in federal bailout money allowed GM, Chrysler and other auto-related entities the financial breathing room to retool their business models and negotiate a Chapter 11 reorganization. Today, GM and Chrysler are enjoying a resurgence. Workers are returning to the assembly lines. Better and more fuel-efficient vehicles are being produced. Chrysler has repaid nearly all of its $12 billion government loan, and GM has repaid roughly half of its $51 billion bailout. The crisis was averted, jobs were saved and Washington's loans are being repaid.
Now Romney, who predicted in a 2008 New York Times column that the government bailout would lead to the demise of the auto industry, is claiming he should get credit for the revival of GM and Chrysler. Romney speciously insists that all the Obama administration did was heed his advice for the companies to go through a managed bankruptcy process. Will Romney take credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden, too?
Steve Rattner, a Wall Street executive who was the lead adviser on the Obama administration's auto task force, has noted that without the federal bailout monies no lender would help GM and Chrysler. Without the federal government in the lead, the companies would have died, jobs would have been lost and the recession would have been even worse.
It's common for candidates for president to adjust their message and their rhetoric as they move out of primary season and aim toward the general election. But they cannot rewrite history or run away from their own previous statements. Voters have longer memories than that.