Obama Now Owns GM? Not Quite—and Not Quite a Bad Thing

He wouldn't own a failure, but will be responsible for the lost bailout money. That's fine.

By + More

By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

A number of bloggers have suggested that now Obama "owns" the auto industry—if it fails, blame will now accrue to him. This is neither necessarily true nor necessarily a bad thing.

Mickey Kaus was, I think, the first (emphasis his):

After visibly defenstrating [ sic] G.M. CEO Rick Wagoner, and moving to replace the board of directors, won't Obama now "own" the G.M. problem? If the company shuts down in the near future, costing tens of thousands of blue collar jobs, it will be under executives implicitly or explicitly chosen by Obama. It will be Obama's failure, not simply G.M.'s failure, no? A public sector failure, not just a business failure. Doesn't that make it harder, not easier, for the administration to walk away and force the company into bankruptcy (if, for example, the company's plans for "viability" continue to fall short after the new 60-day deadline) ?

The ownership question is debatable: GM left to its own devices would certainly fail. I don't think anyone debates that. So Obama cannot fairly be blamed for GM going under—it's not like the auto industry was chugging along nicely and that awful Obama suddenly stuck government into it just for kicks (though given some of the breathless commentary on the right, you might think that that's exactly what happened).

That said, if GM goes down, he would be left holding the bag on having wasted huge amounts of public money on a hopeless ( and unpopular) cause. He'd own that for sure. But that's not a reason not to do it. If GM goes down, Obama can say he tried and people can judge whether it was worth the effort and whether his effort was well-conceived—that's responsibility, and it's better than letting GM fail for fear that if you tried to do something you may not succeed.

On Facebook? You can keep up with Thomas Jefferson Street blog postings through Facebook's Networked Blogs.