William Kristol manufactures a false equivalency in order to tell the tale of the automakers’ bailout the way he prefers to see it.
As Warren Brown, who writes about cars for The Washington Post, recently put it, “There is a feeling in this country — apparent in the often condescending, dismissive way Detroit’s automobile companies have been treated on Capitol Hill — that people who work with their hands and the companies that employ them are inferior to those who work with their minds and plow profit from information. How else to explain the clearly disparate treatment given to companies such as Citigroup and General Motors?” . . .
What’s more, in their disdain for the American auto companies, the left and right wings of the establishment agree. Of course, the particular foci of criticism are different — the left berates the auto companies’ management, the right the United Automobile Workers. But even on the left, while Democratic politicians still try to look out for the interests of the U.A.W., there’s not really that much sympathy for the workers. The ascendant environmentalists disdain (to say the least) the internal combustion engine and everyone associated with it. Most of today’s limousine liberals are embarrassed by their political alliance with the workers who built those limousines.
Meanwhile, on the right, free-market analysts have explained that our regulatory scheme of fuel-efficiency standards is counterproductive. But despite the fact that the government is partly responsible for the Big Three’s problems, the right hasn’t really been stirred to enthusiastically promote a deregulatory agenda to help the auto companies. What excites it is mobilizing to oppose bailouts for unionized workers.
Like almost every factual claim made by conservatives, this is not just false, but deliberately falsified. He obediently recycles the GOP talking point that it was “regulation” that forced US automakers to build cars nobody would buy (without mentioning that both foreign-owned US car companies and foreign importers, who are getting all their business, are subject to the same fuel economy standards), while claiming that the Democrats don’t really care about auto workers anyway. He does appropriately condemn the GOP for playing anti-union political games with the bailout, but concludes that both parties are equally at fault in not taking the situation seriously. (“Whichever party can liberate itself from its well-worn rut to propose policies that help both American businesses and workers . . . could begin by offering management and labor at the Big Three a little more sympathy . . . .”)
But his own description of the situation, even if it could be believed, makes it clear the two parties are in no way equivalently obstructive on this issue. The only criticisms he can come up with against the Democrats are some sort of psychological fantasies he invented about their secret feelings toward the working class, underneath the actual, overt actions and policies they implement to help them. (“While Democratic politicians still try to look out for the interests of the U.A.W., there’s not really that much sympathy for the workers. . . . [E]nvironmentalists disdain (to say the least) the internal combustion engine and everyone associated with it. Most of today’s limousine liberals are embarrassed by . . . the workers . . . .”) There is no factual basis for these claims – he is simply making up what he believes to be in other people’s minds, without regard for whether it matches how they actually behave. Apparently the Democrats are so embarrassed by the UAW that they’re trying to implement healthcare for all the other workers who don’t have strong union contracts, increase unionization through card-check petitions, provide tens of billions of dollars for the UAW’s industry to protect the workers’ jobs, and subsidize the development of alternative energy and hybrid cars so the industry has a chance of survival after the oil crash. But, again, even if this stupid nonsense were true, it has nothing to do with actual policies – which, from the Democrats, are strongly pro-worker and pro-union.
It is the GOP which is actively trying to destroy the working class and to block efforts to protect the jobs of workers in the largest and most-threatened blue collar industy – entirely for ideological reasons grounded in actual, not fantasized, hostility to workers. (How do we know? In this case, unlike that of Kristol’s delusional fictions, they said so: “An e-mail message circulated among Senate Republicans declared that denying the auto industry a loan was an opportunity for Republicans to ‘take their first shot against organized labor.’”) Unlike in the case of Democrats, by Kristol’s own description these are actual, practical policies that have actual, tangible results – not merely intangible, supposed states of mind that do not even match the practical policies in question. More broadly, there is the GOP’s invariant hostility to unions and unionization, opposition to healthcare, unemployment insurance, and other benefits for the working class, theft of the Social Security Trust Fund, absolute refusal to enforce legally-mandated worker-safety regulations throughout the entire Bush administration, and on and on. These are ways the GOP actually pursues policies hostile to workers – in no way the same as the supposed secret resentments harbored by the imaginary Democrats Kristol conjurs up as the only foes, apparently, he is capable of criticizing openly.
Regarding the auto company executives, their “treatment” is more than a question of attitude or sympathy – they are the problem that needs to be solved. “Auto companies” do not just happen to make or lose money – the workers who take orders, and the machines that they use, can only function in response to directives thought up and imposed by the executives. These companies are not failing because they have bad workers or bad machines. They are not failing because the executives made good decisions that somehow didn’t get carried out. They are failing because the executives failed. They chose to find loopholes in the CAFE standards that left them selling cars getting 12mpg while gasoline went to $4. They chose to build heavy, clunky cars that were less attractive than those of European and Japanese competitors selling under the same regulatory regimen. They chose to pay themselves $20 million per year in bonuses while their companies lost money, and then blame it on highly skilled workers who had fought for decades to make an average of less than $60,000 per year (which, true to form, the GOP then dishonestly inflated to “$70 per hour”). The same people who flew alone in separate private jets to a Congressional hearing to complain they were broke are the people who made the decisions that led to them being broke. The only thing that will save Detroit is new and better decisions from the people responsible for guiding the companies. How that can possibly happen with the same crew of schmucks in charge, still pulling down their multi-million dollar bonuses, I can’t imagine. Neither can the Democrats, it seems, because they’re the ones who have been asking about that, while Kristol and the GOP declare that that is an unfair question.
But, aside from the mess in Detroit, the real message here is that the GOP and its toadies can never, ever, be relied upon to see issues clearly or tell the truth about them. They are committed to demagoguing and Swift-boating every issue, in the most transparently political way possible, with no regard for how much trouble it causes. They can do this, because they are never the ones who get hurt. Top Republicans can ride out any crisis; they’ll always have enough money left over (although, as even Kristol notices, they were quick to authorize a Wall Street bailout 50 times larger than the Detroit bailout they found somehow contrary to good business practice). Kristol and his fellow lapdog pack members will get their treats, no matter how high the water rises. The business executives who bankrupted their own companies and threw, literally, millions of workers to the brink of unemployment will simply hang on as long as the GOP can protect them, then take their tens of millions of dollars in payouts and retire in luxury. The GOP can treat the economy, workers’ jobs and pay and benefits and pensions, the stability of entire national industries, and even the environment, as trivial – as no more than grounds for scoring political points and punishing their vast list of enemies – because they live where those things have no meaning; they will always be the ones who get whatever little security and indulgence there is to be had, so they simply don’t need to care about the things other people depend on for their own security, and health, and lives.
The result is that the hard test of fact never applies to high-level conservatives. Most people will find their lives unraveling if they lie to themselves and others about everything all the time – if almost every public statement they make is factually false and can easily be demonstrated to be so by 5 minutes with Google, or if they are simply incapable of distinguishing between what they believe someone thinks and what they observably do. But for those who simply don’t need to care about the hard reality that others struggle with, even the necessity of not being wrong all the time is merely someone else’s problem.