John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Rove Was Wrong

Posted on February 9, 2012


I almost never disagree with Karl Rove and I almost never agree with E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post.

This is one of those rare times.

Rove was wrong on Clint Eastwood.

Dionne was right on Rove being wrong on Clint Eastwood.

E.J. wrote a column in today’s post about the Clint Eastwood Chrysler advertisement.

Talking about the now iconic ad and the former White House strategist, Dionne said:  This is a partisan message only if one party embraces the role of advocating “division, discord and blame.” And, bless him, that’s exactly what Karl Rove chose to do. He grumbled on Fox News that the ad was “a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising and the best wishes of the management, which has benefited by getting a bunch of our money that they’ll never pay back.”  Let’s put aside that most of the money from the Chrysler bailout has already been paid back, and that the initial loan to Chrysler was advanced by the Bush administration, for which Rove once worked. Rove’s normally sharp political instincts failed him here. Why not celebrate Detroit’s resurgence as an American victory and move on?”

In full disclosure, let me say that when the Bush White House first pushed the auto bailout, I supported them.  I supported them because I didn’t want all three American auto companies to go out of business.  Given the situation of the country at the time, I believed (and I still believe) that allowing the free market to work its will, without government intervention, would have been catastrophic for the country.

I still believe it.  While I didn’t particularly like how President Obama ran Government Motors after he took over, and I wasn’t comfortable with him firing and hiring G.M.’s CEO, I was not in the let the Big Three fail camp.

In many ways, this breaks down on regional lines.

Folks who live in Southern states are more than happy to see American car manufacturers fail, if that helps the car companies that manufacture in their states grow.  And those car companies are foreign manufactures from Japan, Korea and Germany.

I am not from the South and I want American car manufacturers to succeed.  I think they had to make better cars and I think they had to get their labor costs down.  And guess what?  They have done both of those things, and they did both of those things with some government intervention.  And yes, a government bailout.

Now, you have to keep in mind what was happening in 2008 and 2009.  The financial system was collapsing.  The car companies couldn’t get the routine loans it gets because the banks didn’t have any money.  Worse, because the financial system was collapsing, nobody had any money to buy any cars.

It was a national emergency, and it required the courageous action of President Bush to make the right call.  Obama went overboard when he took office, as his nature, but that doesn’t meant that Obama doesn’t deserve some credit for his efforts to keep the American automobile industry afloat.  He deserves some credit.

At the end of the day, economic systems only work when they work for a wide swath of the American people.  The free market, at times, needs help to make it work.  It is not always self-correcting.  And in a democracy, when the marketplace fails, the government is required to intervene.

Clint Eastwood didn’t get paid by the government to make his commercial for Chrysler.  Barack Obama and his political minions didn’t dream up this ad campaign to somehow claim some political victory.  And if they had, Clint Eastwood wouldn’t have participated in it.

Rove should have done exactly what E.J. suggested.  He should have tipped his hat to an American icon (Eastwood), expressed his support for American manufacturing and American workers, and pointed out that the Bush Administration did the right thing when it bailed out GM and Chrysler.

Republicans shouldn’t run against Detroit’s success this coming election.   Many who root for American car companies may vote for the GOP in November, as long as we don’t go out of our way to piss them off.