By DeWayne Wickham
George W. Bush may have saved the Republican Party from itself – and pumped a bit of helium into his deflated approval rating.
If, as expected, the Treasury Department gives General Motors and Chrysler the stop-gap loans they need to prevent their collapse – and keep a ripple effect from laying waste to businesses far beyond the auto industry – Bush could rescue the GOP from self destruction. Last week, Senate Republicans scuttled a House-passed bill that would have given the two American automotive companies about $11 billion in emergency funding.
The federal loan will allow General Motors and Chrysler to avoid bankruptcy and continue operating until Congress and the incoming Obama administration can broker a longer term deal to keep this nation’s homegrown automobile industry from going the way of the dodo bird.
While Senate Republicans publicly bandied about laissez faire arguments as the reason for their opposition to this federal bailout, MSNBC uncovered a GOP document last week that suggested another motive. “Republican should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it,” read the unsigned “Action Alert” memo that was sent to GOP senators before the vote.
In other words, Republicans wanted to strike a blow against the United Auto Workers Union, which worked mightily to elect Barack Obama and has given $10 million to other Democratic candidates over the past decade. Some of that money went to opponents of some of the Republican senators that now oppose the bailout, the Detroit Free Press reported.
If you think what the GOP did is simply good political payback, consider this: Since 1990, America’s automobile industry – manufacturers, dealers and suppliers – has given Republican candidates $100 million. During the same period, Democrats got just $34 million from these sources, according to the Center for Responsible Politics.
So why did Republicans pick this fight? Because they are badly in need of a short-term victory; even one that could do them long-term harm.
When all the victors in November’s election are sworn in, Democrats will control the White House, both houses of Congress and a majority of the nation’s governorships. And as America hurtles toward the time (projected to arrive around 2050) when minorities will make up a majority of the population, the Republican Party is increasingly becoming a political organization that appeals to whites only.
Obama was elected president on the strength of a coalition that contained 95 percent of black voters, 66 percent of Hispanics voters and 43 percent of whites.
His Republican opponent, John McCain, picked up just 4 percent of the black vote, 32 percent of Hispanics and 55 percent of whites – a smaller share of each group than Bush won in 2004 – all a smaller share of these groups than what Bush got in 2004.
Now largely a regional political force (it holds sway in a shrinking number of states mostly in the South and Rocky Mountain West), the GOP’s opposition to the auto industry bailout is meant to kill off the UAW before it can make big inroads in organizing auto industry workers in Southern states where several foreign car manufacturers have assembly plants.
To his credit, Bush understands that the GOP’s opposition to the bailout might be good “get-even” politics for members of a critically-wounded, regionally-isolated political party, but it is bad governance by members of our national legislature.
In agreeing to use a portion of the $700 billion Congress gave the Treasury Department to aid the nation’s struggling financial institutions to keep General Motors and Chrysler afloat, Bush rises above the pettiness of congressional Republicans to put this nation’s needs ahead of his party.
That’s an act of leadership that deserves to be acknowledged.