Although President George W. Bush succeeded with some of his policies, the bailout of the Detroit Three is possibly his most significant mistake. The recent damage he’s done to the Republican brand will take leadership with a command focus to repair. The president’s mistake could repeat the hardship Americans experienced the last time we went down this path early in the last century.
Setting aside President Bush’s successes on such fronts as protecting the homeland against terrorists, his failures have been noteworthy. Some, such as the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, came about because Mayor Ray Nagin’s incompetence was surpassed only by that of Governor Kathleen Blanco. Others, such as the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, were entirely his fault.
But the past three months have seen terrible decisions with long-term consequences. As markets declined, President Bush signed onto massive government bailouts of banks, then other financial institutions that started calling themselves banks. Now, he’s agreed to give a massive bailout to three American automakers that have stubbornly persisted in clinging to failed business plans that leave them in the red, strangled into insolvency by crippling union contracts.
To be fair to President Bush, the bailout failure could not have happened without the Democrat-controlled Congress, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Even Senator John McCain had a hand in this situation.
Polls showed voters were against the first bailout 90-10 when it passed. Subsequent polls had voters opposed to it 75-22 on Election Day. Had Mr. McCain taken the conservative line opposing these bailouts, and criticized Senator Barack Obama for supporting the president’s plan, he would have finished stronger.
But none of that excuses President Bush’s decision to give $17 billion of taxpayer money to the Detroit Three, postponing their need to make fundamental changes to their business models. This giveaway radically expanded the reach of the federal government in a manner only seen in socialist nations. Worse, he attached paltry, optional conditions to that federal largesse, leaving the door open to the next administration to waive those requirements completely and use the GOP for political cover.
Out of all the options available to President Bush, he took the worst-possible course.