IT’S A GOOD THING OBAMA SAVED THE AUTO INDUSTRY, CONT’D…. Remember, if we’d followed the Republican economic policy last year, this wouldn’t happen.

Chrysler Group LLC will spend $600 million to upgrade production at its Illinois assembly plant, bringing the auto maker’s total announced U.S. investment to $2.1 billion since its exit from bankruptcy court last year.

The company will use the funds to build a body shop and install new machines at the Belvidere assembly plant to support the production of future models in 2012. The plant is home to the Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot and Dodge Caliber.

New production means more work means more jobs. In other words, it’s good news. As a political matter, MSNBC’s First Read noted in July, “We said it at the time: As the [auto industry] bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency. It was the bailout everyone in America could understand, and it wasn’t popular…. A year later, however, the Obama administration believes it has a good story to tell.”

The administration’s right. Republicans were prepared to let the American auto industry fail at the height of the Great Recession, but President Obama rescued it instead. If the auto bailout and Obama’s presidency are inextricably tied, the White House has reason to boast.

It also reminds me of a point I’ve been meaning to get to. I mentioned the other day that Ford reported earnings of $1.7 billion in the third quarter, and now expects to have zero net debt by the end of the calendar year — a year ahead of schedule. Despite the still-sluggish economy, Ford’s third quarter was the best in more than 20 years, and I again emphasized how glad I am the president rescued the American automotive industry.

Torr Leonard suggested this was off-base, since Ford wasn’t part of the GM/Chrysler rescue.

It’s not an unreasonable point, but by all available evidence, it’s mistaken. Ford may not have been bailed out, but the company, like its American competitors, was struggling badly. If GM and Chrysler had collapsed, there’s absolutely no doubt that Ford wouldn’t have had the suppliers it needed to survive. Ford’s executives have already acknowledged this; it’s not exactly a contentious point.

I realize the auto industry rescue wasn’t popular; bailouts never are. But as industry production and profits keep improving, this definitely belongs in the political “win” category for the Obama White House. The president’s approach is a success story, and we can all be very glad the decision was in his, not Republican, hands.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.