Detroit, Mich. – “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has famously said. “This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”
Last week, columnist Charles Krauthammer brilliantly dissected how President Obama “sees the continuing financial crisis as usefully creating the psychological conditions . . . for enacting his ‘Big Bang’ agenda of social programs — programs that have nothing to so with the current crisis.”
“Clever politics,” continues Krauthammer, “but intellectually dishonest to the core. Health, education and energy — worthy and weighty as they may be — are not the cause of our financial collapse. And they are not the cure.”
The same might be said of the Obama Auto Task Force as it tackles Detroit’s auto crisis.
Representatives of the 25-member task force are in Detroit this week to allegedly discuss “ways to help the ailing industry to recover financially” as press reports put it.
Don’t bet on it. The task force contains not a single member with experience in the auto industry, while boasting veterans of agencies like the EPA, who long for more industry regulation, and such notoriously anti-auto figures as Carol Browner (co-writer of Al Gore’s screed against the internal combustion engine, Earth in the Balance).
Like the financial crisis, the Obama team has laid out a false narrative for how the industry got to the current precipice. “(GM and Chrysler) never invested in alternative energy cars,” said chief of staff Emanuel recently. “They got dependent on big gas guzzlers. They have a health care cost structure that’s outdated.”
This is pure fantasy. But it is a fantasy that is guiding talks here.
The Detroit News reports that “the Obama administration wants to push the sector to move faster in developing cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars. The White House sent strong signals this week that it is considering energy and environmental issues alongside financial matters. White House officials said discussions of a single, national greenhouse gas standard, which could supersede attempts by California and other states to set their own standards, are part of the restructuring process.”
None of these issues has anything to do with making the domestic industry solvent again. Indeed, they will make it less competitive and dependent on even more federal subsidies
“Because taxpayer money is being used, there’s an effort to include fuel-economy in the discussion,” says Craig Cather, president of consulting firm CSM Worldwide of Northville and an industry expert contacted by the task force. Really? Public opinion polls consistently show fuel efficiency well down the list of consumer priorities — which is why SUVs still make up nearly half the market.
To paraphrase Krauthammer, fuel efficiency is not the cause of automakers’ financial collapse. And it is not the cure.