Turning the auto bailout into a winning issue

The Obama administration rescued the American automotive industry, in one of the president’s biggest but under-reported success stories. The new goal is to not only let voters know about this, but use it to boost Obama’s standing in states like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania

And part of this is about reminding folks not only who got the policy right, but who didn’t.

“The very Republicans that now want to be president lined up against this to make it a political issue instead of a jobs issue,” said United Steelworkers political director Tim Waters, whose union, along with the United Autoworkers Union, depends heavily on the car industry and is concentrated in the industrial Midwest.

“Much to their disappointment now — it proved to be very, very successful. Guys like Mitt Romney, certainly Mitch Daniels, and even (Mike) Huckabee and guys like that — they were actually willing to sit and watch the utter destruction of thousands of communities,” he said.

This criticism has the added benefit of being true. Pawlenty called the bailout “misguided”; Gingrich called it “dangerous”; and Romney called for letting Detroit “go bankrupt.” Huntsman and Daniels opposed the successful rescue, too.

In other words, at the height of the economic downturn, with the automotive industry — the backbone of American manufacturing — on the brink of collapse, Obama took a chance on a risky plan. Leading Republicans were certain it would fail. They were wrong, and the president was right. Their way would have thrown hundreds of thousands of industry workers off the job, and Obama’s way ended up preventing these massive job losses.

Now the trick is letting the Rust Belt know about it. Politico said Obama’s team is “determined to tell this story loudly and proudly,” which seems like a good idea.

As E.J. Dionne Jr. noted last week, “Far too little attention has been paid to the success of the government’s rescue of the Detroit-based auto companies, and almost no attention has been paid to how completely and utterly wrong bailout opponents were when they insisted it was doomed to failure.”

A little accountability would be nice under the circumstances.