Was Mitt Romney right about Detroit and Russia?
If Mitt Romney were to write a bumper sticker slogan for the past month, it would probably be, “Detroit DID go bankrupt. Russia IS a geopolitical foe.”
Reality isn’t quite so simple as to perfectly apply recent developments on Detroit and Russia to the American debate in 2012, but neither were Romney’s arguments on the car industry and on Russia. That didn’t stop Democrats and pundits from using them to beat Romney down.
And it would be a good retort to Joe Biden’s often-repeated 2012 bumper sticker slogan: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!”
Biden used the phrase to simultaneously flaunt what the Obama administration accomplished in the war on terror and hit Romney for his position against the auto bailout.
Romney had different ideas than the president about the war on terror, and he also had outspoken ideas on Russia, which he told Wolf Blitzer on CNN in March of 2012 was “without question our number one geopolitical foe.”
His statement drew snickers in Washington and complaints in foreign policy circles that he was stuck in the Cold War.
“You don’t call Russia our No. 1 enemy — not al Qaeda, Russia — unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp,” President Barack Obama said at the Democratic National Convention last September.
The president probably still wouldn’t call Russia this country’s top foe. But now that Russia has given NSA leaker Edward Snowden a year of asylum, and the two countries can’t find accord on Syria or Iran, he might choose not to put the line in his convention speech.
“Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin’s Russia,” Sen. John McCain said upon hearing news of Snowden’s asylum. “We need to deal with the Russia that is, not the Russia we might wish for. We cannot allow today’s action by [Russian President Vladimir Putin] to stand without serious repercussions.”
“Russia has stabbed us in the back,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat. He called on Obama to protest by demanding the upcoming G-20 summit for world economic powers be moved away from Russia.
Biden’s slogan, “General Motors is alive!” drew a direct contrast between the candidates on the auto bailout that Obama engineered after initial action by President George W. Bush.
Romney’s much-cited New York Times op-ed argued the car industry should be shepherded into a managed bankruptcy and not propped up with taxpayer dollars.
The headline of Romney’s op-ed in November 2008 was “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” That headline followed him all the way to November of 2012 when he lost the election.
Romney’s argument in the opinion piece was directed at the car industry, but it foreshadowed last month’s news that the Detroit the city, once the powerhouse of the American economy, was going bankrupt.
“[W]e refused to throw in the towel and do nothing,” Obama said in a video message in October of 2012. “We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt, I bet on American workers, and American ingenuity and three years later that bet is paying off in a big way.”
A conservative might apply the high labor costs Romney cited as part of the downfall for the auto industry to the cost of government worker pension plans that have helped put the city in trouble.
How to deal with promises made to public employees is an issue Americans will face in the coming decades in places far flung from the Motor City.
The federal government has made pretty clear there won’t be any sort of bailout for the city of Detroit like there was for the auto industry that lives there.
Campaigns are full of little moments like the Detroit and Russia storylines that may have worked against Romney. They add up. More damaging for Romney than either the Detroit op-ed or the Russia as a foe storyline was his statement to fundraisers about giving up on the 47% of Americans who would not vote for him no matter what.
This week we also got the most in-depth explanation from Romney on those comments in the form of a book excerpt from Washington Post writer Dan Balz. Romney said he was misunderstood.
In politics, eight months is an eternity. It’s enough time for the Romneys to welcome four new grandchildren into the world. How Detroit and Russia and the 47% factored into 2012 are interesting historical questions, but the national dialogue has moved on. Romney is retired from national politics and the pundits and press have moved on to the 2016 parlor game.
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