Monday, June 1, 2009

What's Good for General Motors is Good for America

Let's hope not. The General Motors bankruptcy filing is a horrendous thing in horrendous times. I don't want the United States government thinking that it's a dandy idea for the nation to go bankrupt as well. But that doesn't change the fact that the Obama administration has a dim view of American capitalism.

Before proceeding, let me assure people reading this post that I am aware that the famous and oft-repeated headline quoted above is not either the actual quote or the actual context. In 1953, Eisenhower's nominee for Secretary of Defense, Charles Wilson, was asked by Senators reviewing the nomination if as Secretary he could make a Defense Department decision which would be adverse to the interests of General Motors. His reply was "for years I thought that what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa."

But I digress. The attitudes of founder William Charles Durant, and even that of Charles ("Engine Charlie") Wilson were left in the dust over the past twenty or thirty years. Yes government has intruded, often unnecessarily, into GM's corporate decision-making and product choices, but in large part GM's current woes are the result of both gross corporate mismanagement and gross labor excess. The GM executives of more recent vintage have made terrible fiscal and product decisions. The United Auto Workers Union (UAW) demanded, and got, retirement benefits which would put those of any socialist paradise to shame. "This is not your father's Oldsmobile" because there is no Oldsmobile anymore. And now there's no Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer or Saab, either. GM poured untold billions into products that couldn't compete with foreign competition while the GM workers looked forward to Midas-like retirement.

Remember Lee Iacocca? The irritating uncle who visited and then refused to go home? Well, he's also the man who saved Chrysler Corporation lo these many years ago. Here are a couple of juicy tidbits that he has to share in his new book Where Have All the Leaders Gone?: "Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder! We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricance much less build a hybrid car. But instead, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say 'Stay the course.' Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a soundbite: 'Throw all the bums out.'"

Iacocca goes on to say that he hardly recognizes this country anymore. I'll join him in that one. He equally damns Bush and Obama for their foolishness. Ditto. I sometimes despair of ever getting this great nation back on its feet, and on the right course rather than the same course that has led us to near-ruin.

General Motors may emerge from bankruptcy in as little as thirty-five to forty days. But it will no longer be the giant automobile manufacturer that was so much a part of America's success domestically and internationally. It will most likely emerge as a tinfoil car manufacturer marketing automobiles that nobody really wants. They will be produced by a company owned largely by foreign interests, the federal government and the very labor organization that played such a major part in bringing down the corporation--the once-great company that used to be the flagship of American manufacturing might.


Writer X said...

I listened to Pres. Obama's speech earlier on the GM announcement and this may have been his "jump the shark" moment. It was like listening to the thief who robbed you blind tell you how he was going to make better use of your possessions than you did. It was surreal.

AndrewPrice said...

Nice article Lawhawk. It's interesting that you mention Lee Iacocca. There are many people who think that if they had let Chrysler fail in the past, that GM and Ford would be better off today.

I wonder, going forward, with GM being owned by the UAW, if Ford will need to break their own unions? If they don't, what keeps the UAW from cutting a sweetheart deal with GM just to squeeze Ford? Also, how do you compete against a company that seems to have the power and purse of the government behind it?

Unknown said...

Andrew: At least Iacocca made it clear that he was asking for emergency funds as a loan, since he had a plan to create a newer and better Chrysler Corporation. He also paid back the loan, with interest, at a much earlier date than planned. He didn't ask the government to come in, grab massive shares in the company, and tell him how to do his job. But the point of your question is well-taken, and will be debated for years to come.

The questions you raised in your second paragraph are the nightmare we will be facing in every major corporate area for the foreseeable future. This administration is so arrogant and yet so disorganized and incapable of good planning that I wouldn't even hazard a guess as to what is going to happen. Whatever it is, it won't be good.

patti said...

the title to this post made me shiver in my seat as i tried to shake off the very thought of where i feel we are headed. like iacocca, i am wondering why more aren't screaming bloody murder (those of us who are have been called many a nasty word). why they can't seem to see what i plainly see. where the hell is our tipping point?!

writer x: from your words to the american people's ear. if they think this is our jumping moment then maybe, if i strain, i will hear the tide of those screaming growing louder...

BevfromNYC said...

I guess I am one of the few that remembers when H. Ross Perot was the largest individual stockholder and board member of GM in 1984 after GM bought out Perot's company EDS for a large amount of money. Let's just say Mr. Perot has always been a do-er and did his homework. (Being a Dallasite, I know Mr. Perot’s ways very well and I respect him highly.) He researched, went to dealerships and tried out the products. His conclusion, which he took to the board, was that GM needed to improve the quality of their products (which I can attest to having owned a GM product at that time that was recalled 5 times and had to be repainted at GM expense 2 months after I drove it off the lot). The GM CEO and other board members did not like what Perot had to say and promptly gave him his money back and told him to go away. If they had listened to Mr. Perot and done what needed to be done then, they may not have in the place they are now. The reason people buy Japanese cars is that they are good product that is efficient to own and operate.

I go on record that I told wrote my Congresspersons Chuck Schumer , Hillary Clinton and Caroline Maloney in October to demand that they let GM & Chrysler go in to bankruptcy because was where they would end up anyway. (I was much more eloquent at time). But why would any of them listen to us. The responses I received were just a bunch of political BS.

To Hillary's great credit, I received a response from her office one week after I contacted her. I did not hear from Chuck until late March. And I have never heard from my Representative Caroline Maloney.

We must impress upon our public officials that the money that they are spending is OUR money, not THEIRS and they serve at OUR pleasure, and not THEIRS. We must demand that before there are any new taxes anywhere they must STOP spending like drunken sailors on leave and start cutting unnecessary expenditures. And it wouldn’t hurt that WE THE PEOPLE demand that THEY suspend their salaries until this nation is more financially stable. We have Cabinet members and Congresspeople who “forget” to pay their taxes yet demand the citizens to pay and a President that jets off for Date Night with his wife in NYC at our expense to the tune of $25K plus while publicly rebuking private citizens who do the same. It is shameful and it must stop now.

Phew, okay, I am finished with my angry rant…I need a drink!

StlDan said...

I have said this before and I am not sure exactly what affect it will have, and would love to hear opinions from others. I was raised as a UAW/GM brat and have always bought GM (family Discount) My Father and I have had many disputes over the UAW, I hope I don't have to tell you which side I argued. I will not buy a Chrysler or GM product, as long as the Government owns any significant amount of the company. I am not big on boycotts but, this is one I will impose on myself, the only others are Hollywood and GE, guess maybe I like boycotts more than I realized. Anyway I would like your thoughts on becoming a Ford only man.

SQT said...

Awesome post and comments. Love your rant Bev (just thought you should know).


I've always bought Fords, though I haven't, until now, had an ax to grind against GM. To me, this whole fiasco should be a crystal clear example of how unions ruin industry, but weirdly very few people seem to understand that. Right now the dialogue seems heavily focused on government intervention (as it should) but what about union mismanagement? Where's the media discussion about that?

Unknown said...

Bev: You are so right. The politicians don't realize that it is not their money they are spending. And over the years they've assisted another phenomenon. Non-taxpaying voters who have figured out that is isn't their money either, so they'll just take somebody else's money. The politicians use the masses, and the masses use the politicians. A great deal for everybody except the taxpayers.

StlDan: My parents were Chrysler all the way. My mom got a 1942 DeSoto (complete with disappearing headlights), and kept it until they finally traded it in on an Imperial in 1955. When the Imperial finally required more repair than it was worth, she got a 1967 Dodge Dart, which she drove until she passed away. My dad started a small business with a 1949 Dodge panel truck, and by the time he died, he had a small trucking company with seven trucks--all Dodges. My wife's family was all GM, so our first cars were a Chevelle two-door hardtop, then a Chevrolet Impala station wagon. I finally got a Porsche in 1984 and my marriage and the car crashed at about the same time. In the end, after the divorce, she bought only Japanese automobiles and I bought only German cars. We had become completely disillusioned with American cars, but we gave up on them very reluctantly.

Today, if I were going to buy an American car, I would only consider a Ford product. No great love for Ford cars, just a way of saying that I will never buy a government car, nor will I own a car that is a fuel-efficient, tinfoil deathtrap.

AndrewPrice said...


Intellectually, I'm with you. We should not support a quasi-government corporation mucking around in the market.

I have never considered a GM car (even before the current political issue) because the quality has been so poor. My parents had a 1985 Caddy Fleetwood that spent more time in the shop than on the road, I've had friends who had GM products that couldn't get out of their own way, and we watched GM squeeze the life out of Saturn. I feel that GM has certainly earned my scorn. This political crap only deepens my anger.

My first car was a 1961 Ford Falcon -- 0-60 in 20 minutes. It was pure steel, could have run over an Abrams tank, but it ran.

But when it came time to replace the tank, it also became clear that then-modern American cars (late 1980s) were garbage. So I switched to Hondas for the quality and was always happy.

That said, before Christmas, I did finally go back and buy a Chrysler 300C and I've been pretty happy with it so far. So while I am with you intellectually, I am in fact driving one of the enemy.

Of course, on the plus side, it's got an 8 cylinder engine and it burns a LOT of dinosaur when it flies down the highway. That makes me happy.

Captain Soapbox said...

Well I drove quite a few GM cars growing up, my mom and grandma were big on GM cars. My first car was a used '84 Firebird and the last GM car I owned actually. My first brand new car was a Ford Tempo, and I hated that thing, then went to Jeeps, and I do love me Jeeps. But with the way the US auto makers are going I probably won't buy another American car until everything shakes out.

Lucky for me though I've become enamored of certain makes of German cars, so I'll probably be driving those for the foreseeable future. But I really did want to get a new Challenger or Camero. Oh well, Obama will still hate me because a 911 burns a lot of dinosaur! Love that line Andrew, I'm going to start using it all the time now. LOL

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