Monday, February 6, 2012

Half time, looking back and forward

If you're like the estimated 100 million Americans who watched Sunday's Super Bowl, you presumably experienced numerous commercials (many with gratuitous demonstrations of the female body). Yet the one commercial I continue to think about came from the quintessential American--Clint Eastwood. If you didn't get to watch it, you can check it out right here.

Listen to what he says. He speaks about Americans working together, pulling together to save our economy and ourselves from despair. People are hurting and scared. Eastwood asks, "How do we come from behind? How do we come together? And how do we win?" Detroit and American auto manufacturing (and US manufacturing more broadly) was saved by the federal government. 

It was a few years ago so we've presumably forgotten all about that. It was a big deal. People called it the breaking point for American democracy (they were unaware that corporations would soon be citizens, although that didn't seem to bother those most vocal about the "bailout"). The Trouble Asset Relief Program was a big deal. It wasn't just the auto companies. But the biggest banks would much prefer for us to forget about their reception of copious amounts of money. 

Without going on about this, I want to simply call attention to the leading candidate for the Republican Party in this year's presidential election. Mitt Romney wrote an important piece that stands in sharp contrast to the words of Eastwood and the belief that many Americans now have about the role of the federal government with respect to the auto industry. Bailouts weren't and continue to be unpopular. But they served a purpose. In a time when money wasn't to be had, the government stepped up. It played an important role in helping to save and restructure an industry very important to this country. A recent Washington Post story highlights this point. 

Both Chrysler's video and the WP story point us back to Romney's op-ed in The New York Times. You can read that here. America is about more than free markets. It's about people and a way of life that is worthy of support from the government when necessary. Capitalism is very good and important. But we must acknowledge that we stand to lose a great deal when we only look at the numbers; when it's only about winners and losers in the world of competition. Behind the closures of factories are entire communities decimated and broken. People hurt and scared. And while unemployment is now down to 8.3%, we're not there yet. We need to continue to invest and improve this country. What scares me greatly right now as we look forward to the 2012 election is that we stand to shift course dramatically if Obama loses to the Republican candidate (presumably Romney). Being reminded of the differences between these two is important. Don't lose sight of how they view the world and the role of government.

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