What's good for General Motors...
The auto makers met Congress yesterday and it's hard to figure out which institution is in greater disrepute.
Once upon a time "Engine" Charlie Wilson, a General Motors boss allegedly proclaimed "What's good for General Motors is good for the country" (actually it was somewhat reversed but you know how these things works).
And Lee Iacocca (I Am Chrysler Corporation of America) made his fame -- and company's fortune -- by successfully lobbying an earlier Congress for a bailout.
Yesterday, the bosses of GM, Ford and Chrysler sat before Congress with outstretched hands, looking for a piece of the cash being shoved out the Treasury hand over fist. Congress shows no inclination to go that way again.
Of course, neither does Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, which may be the best thing the automakers have going for them.
It's hard to understand the importance of the auto industry around here -- the last GM plant in Framingham packed up and left decades ago. I've driven a Toyota for years, after the Dodge I once owned taught me all sorts of nasty things about freeze plugs and I could get stuff out of the truck through the rot on the side.
But the automakers are obviously important to Michigan -- heck the whole industry is named after its largest city. And while the Detroit bosses have made some rotten decisions over the years, so have our "leaders."
I can't help but wonder if the current mess would be marginally less so if Paulson and friends had decided not to single out Lehman Brothers for failure while allowing AIG to feast on taxpayer largess.
But I also can't see a federal auto bailout without someone, finally, asking for something in return.
Detroit has made gas guzzlers for years -- and spent millions upon millions lobbying Washington not to raise fuel efficiency standards. Today they have fleets of unsold oversize SUVs and disastrous financial results.
Those decisions are related -- which means change in the way of doing business should be the price of the bailout. And a clean sweep of the executives that presided over those disastrous policies.
But the auto industry employs millions of people and they should not be cast adrift. And that's exactly what would happen if we told the auto industry to stick it. The executives with the golden parachutes would be fine. The folks who made the cars and the parts would not.
We've already spent billions bailing out the "masters of the universe" who engineered financial fraud. We ought to be able to save autoworkers from the sins of their bosses.
UPDATE: Hey, if Myth Romney, son of a auto executive says "let 'em go bankrupt" and screw the people expecting to be paid for services rendered to the Big Three, that's further reinforcement that a bailout -- with tough string attached -- is the way to go.