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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
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Republicans Must “Cowboy Up” on Saving U.S. Auto Industry


Of Margaret Thatcher's British administration, this compliment was paid: "The government has a heroic commitment to hard-nosed pragmatism" — by which each policy was judged not on its philosophical roots, but instead by whether or not the intended practical results were achieved by that policy. The difference between a pragmatist, one who is driven by results, and an ideologue, the proponent of an abstract, usually dogmatic ideology, is simple: The ideologue believes what is right works, while the pragmatist believes what works is right.

Fortunately, most Americans are pragmatists. Take this question asked in 2009 and again just recently by the respected pollsters at the Pew Research Center: "The government also gave loans to General Motors and Chrysler. ... Do you think that was mostly good or mostly bad for the economy?" Three years ago, by a decisive three-to-two margin, Americans answered Washington's loans to the car companies had been "mostly bad" (54 percent) rather than "mostly good" (37 percent).

But in the Pew survey, completed less than two weeks ago, the evidence of General Motors' comeback — once again the world's largest automaker, with record 2011 net income of $9.19 billion — and Chrysler's own fourth-quarter profit of $225 million in 2011 — the company's first year out of the red since 2005 — had totally reversed public opinion.

Now, a healthy majority (56 percent) judges that Washington's loans to Detroit have been "mostly good" for the economy, while just 38 percent says "mostly bad." Note that this represents a 35 percent turnaround in public opinion in support of the federal loans in just three years.

Let us remember that the original federal assistance to the U.S. automakers was made by Republican President George W. Bush in the closing weeks of his administration.

The big decision to commit $80 billion of public money to save Detroit, of course, was made by the new Democratic president, Barack Obama.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the trusted Gallup Poll got a less positive response to its recent question on the auto loans, which was phrased differently: "Now looking back to one of the major actions taken by the federal government in the last four years, would you say you approve of disapprove of the financial bailout for U.S. automakers that were in danger of failing?"

I frankly think the word "bailout" suggests an unearned benefit and triggers a negative reaction, while there is no mention of practical effect on the nation's economy. Forty-four percent approved and 51 percent disapproved in the Gallup poll.

It is now time for Republicans in general and the four remaining GOP presidential candidates to "cowboy up," to stop whining and to take responsibility by publicly acknowledging the reality of success — that this federal policy has worked. Because of the U.S. loan to the auto companies, the country is stronger, more prosperous and more confident than it was before those loans were made.

Face the truth, Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum, and just admit, reluctantly, that the American auto industry is once again robust. In the last 33 months, U.S. auto companies have hired an additional 207,000 workers. Be happy, fellows, that 47,500 GM autoworkers will begin in March to earn profit-sharing checks of up to $7,000 because the taxpayers of this country and the federal government in Washington, D.C., made the bold, risky and right decision to save the industry from dismemberment.

And the feds did a lot more than write a check. Washington demanded that GM and Chrysler make the painful, difficult reforms necessary to once again compete.

It's time for Republicans to outgrow their dogmatic ideology — arguing that the U.S. government cannot do anything well or wisely — to become realistic pragmatists and able to celebrate this wonderfully American success story!

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




8 Comments | Post Comment
Just a litte note to let you know that you are the only person I trust in analyzing any political events. I am from France originally, became an American 5 years ago and of course voted for best president for the people in 2008. I wanted to thank you for your clarity and your honesty. Maybe you should run for the presidency :)
It is time for we, the people to realize who has our interest at heart instead of who is interested in putting their interest and believes first. No one wants to go back to burning witches and stoning people in the square. Keep the church out of politics. Separation of church and government is the fairest of politics of all.

M.A.Brick from Tucson Arizona
Comment: #1
Posted by: Marie-Antoinette Brick
Fri Feb 24, 2012 7:28 PM
Mark - congratulations on your civility award - I hold your insights and opinions in the highest regard - you bring clarity and fairness to complex issues and you display intelligence courage and conviction in your opinions - I have few journalist heroes but I count you among them. I look forward to your appearance on the news hour for my summary of the news - I tune everybody else out during the week - Sal
Comment: #2
Posted by: Sal Castaneda
Fri Feb 24, 2012 7:48 PM
Why should the Republican candidates admit the truth? They can continue to lie, and the "true believers" in their party will accept the most blatent lie as the unvarnished truth. Remember Swift Boat?
Comment: #3
Posted by: Paul M. Petkovsek
Sat Feb 25, 2012 5:12 AM
@Paul Petkovsek, absolutely! I also remember Soros refusing to pay even after being presented with official military documents which refuted all the false accusations and still, still the Republican populace believe the lie.
Dare I mention Republican supporters and Lemmings in the same sentence? Lemming suicide is a frequently used metaphor in reference to people who go along unquestioningly with popular opinion, with potentially dangerous or fatal consequences. Sheeple, who tremble if presented with the facts or the truth and look to the shepherd for the correct response.
Comment: #4
Posted by: demecra zydeem
Sat Feb 25, 2012 8:15 AM
I will assume those who said NO in the survey were those stockholders and bond holders who were SCREWED by the BAILOUT conditions imposed by the administration . i would have said YES that it helped the economy but would also know that it was not the proper thing for the government to do . Giving a loan , as one president did , is the one thing that should have been done as it would have protected all the individual people who put their faith and money in GM
Comment: #5
Posted by: TED sMITH
Sat Feb 25, 2012 4:43 PM
Re: demecra zydeem
All I can say is, Goebbles would be proud.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Paul M. Petkovsek
Sat Feb 25, 2012 5:58 PM
Sir;.. I would dispute with you your conclusions that most Americans are pragmatists... Pragmatism is a quality most people are capable of when given the truth that is limited by the amount of truth people are given...We are all governed to a greater or lesser extent by the ideas we hold as true, and from my experience, most people do not hold false ideas willingly... True concepts are ideas of the physical world, like how to arrive at the area or circumference of a circle, or how to drive from point A to point B... True ideas are conserved in that, as judgements of reality they can be counted on as unchanging, like the definition of a line is unchanged by every new example... Some Ideas, like laws, actually point out that which is conserved- as in the conservation of matter... What all true ideas have in common is that they are all tools by which people can reach new and relevant conclusions... We think by way of ideas as bits of truth about reality...

No matter how much people in thinking use ideas to reach valid conclusions, every conclusion based upon an idea is itself a test of the idea, so that no idea can be thought true apart from the truth of the conclusions drawn from it... And Yet; our ideas of the physical world, of physics, and chemistry and engineering are but a small part of the world of ideas...
Most of what we hold as true, even self evidently true, are moral forms, what some have called transendent concepts... I have no objective way of comparing my idea of justice to your idea of justice... No object means no objectivity....The Muslim's idea of God is as objectively true to him as the Christian's idea of God is to the Christian, but even among Christians there is no ability to compare a subjective idea of God to God who cannot be produced as an object...My point here is a simple one... It is out of moral forms, these so called transendent concepts people cannot judge or question effectively that they build their social forms like Goverment, and Relgions...

If we look at the Constitution of the United States, the Moral Forms, the Goods, the virtues for which it was written, and upon what basis it was accepted are plainly written... The problem results from the fact that these ideas so easy to enunciate, and so obviously good to all -are beyond close consideration... My liberty may be your licence... My virtue may be your vice...Your tranquility may be my injustice, and my justice may deny your general welfare...Moral forms are meanings without being, and worse than that, is the fact that most people consider that they are moral, and they judge themselves by their ideas, the principals, and the values they hold dear apart from all they may actually do...
As long as one holds national unity in high regard they my act to sow disunion... As long as common defense is a value dear, it does not matter if the defense is undercut by profiteers, or the poor must die for the rich and pay for the pleasure...

That we judge ourselves, and each other by our ideals is one problem; but that we judge reality by them is another... Can we reach correct conclusions with our ideas??? When talking of moral forms we can only judge the quality of our ideas by their result, but most of us put our ideas and principals above and beyond any criteria with which we might judge them, and this is often made possible by the back beating of moral prejudice... If we judge our economy as one from which good always emenates we may be inclined to blame the failures of the great masses of people in our economy to their own moral weakness just as we blame our success on the ideals we hold firm to...

Having judged our ideals as correct without proof, and without even fair examination of them, we use them to pass judgment upon humanity... If Communism is perfect we can judge, and find guilty all who do not measure up to its demands... Instead of human happiness being the standard to the truth or falseness of an ideal, our ideals become the judge, jury and executioner of all falible humanity who cannot meet the standard of perfection... The very thing in our political system which makes the Democrats seem so ineffectual, tepid, and timid is their doubt of grand ideals, and their practical pragmatism; their willingness to judge their ideals on their results... What makes the republicans seem so decisive, determined, and bold is a certainty based upon a deliberate ignorance of consequences... They charge ahead knowing the sacrifice of others is always insufficient to the demands of their perfect ideals... In reality, ideas help us to think; but in politics ones ideas always pass for thought so that one who seizes upon great ideas is thought a genius...

No idea is better than how well it works even if it decends to earth on the wings of angels... As a social form, government is a physical manifestation of the ideas behind it, and Aristotle no less said government was created for good... The presumption of good is not enough to make government good... If the ideas the republicans and democrats hold dear are set aside for a moment; then what is the good of our government??? If Government should be the prisoner of the churches and be the pet of the economy, then what is the good it can do for the rest of the people in between??? If we cannot judge the thing by its results it is because we are too trapped by ideas to think... Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #7
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Mon Feb 27, 2012 6:37 AM
Mark Shields is correct that survival of GM and Chrysler was vastly superior to disolving the businesses, but it could have been done without destroying a century of securities law. Yes, absolving the failed auto companies of their debts and dramatic change to union labor and retirerment commitments was essential to restart these companies. But the bond holders had first call on the equity in the new companies. Instead, Obama awared it to the United Auto Workers and Fiat. Since government is now making political decisions on bankruptcy priorites, there is no such thing as securited creditors, unless they are favorites of the sitting President. The rule of law loses again.
The President could have arranged a prepackaged bankruptcy, but adhering to prior law, and yes, only the federal government could have antied up $80 billion.
Comment: #8
Posted by: George
Tue Feb 28, 2012 12:16 PM
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