OK. It's a fantasy. But if I had five minutes in front of Congress, here's what I would say:
Good morning. First of all, before you ask, I flew commercial. Northwest Airlines. Had a bag of peanuts for breakfast. Of course, that's Northwest, which just merged with Delta, a merger you, our government, approved — and one which, inevitably, will lead to big bonuses for their executives and higher costs for us. You seem to be OK with that kind of business.
Which makes me wonder why you're so against our kind of business? The kind we do in Detroit. The kind that gets your fingernails dirty. The kind where people use hammers and drills, not keystrokes. The kind where you get paid for making something, not moving money around a board and skimming a percentage.
You've already given hundreds of billions to banking and finance companies — and hardly demanded anything. Yet you balk at the very idea of giving $25 billion to the Detroit Three. Heck, you shoveled that exact amount — $25 billion — to Citigroup, and that place is about to crumble anyhow.
Does the word "hypocrisy" ring a bell?
Sen. Shelby. Yes. You. From Alabama. You've been awfully vocal. You called the Detroit Three's leaders "failures." You said loans to them would be "wasted money." You said they should go bankrupt and "let the market work."
Why weren't you equally vocal when your state handed out hundreds of millions in tax breaks to Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Honda and others to open plants there? Why not "let the market work"? Or is it better for Alabama if the Detroit Three fold so that the foreign companies — in your state — can produce more?
And you, Sen. Kyl of Arizona. You told reporters: "There's no reason to throw money at a problem that's not going to get solved."
That's funny, coming from such an avid supporter of the Iraq war. You've been gung ho on that for years. So how could you just sit there when an Iraqi former chief investigator told Congress that $13 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds "had been lost to fraud, embezzlement, theft and waste" by the Iraqi government?
That's 13 billion, senator. More than half of what the auto industry is asking for.
Where was your "throwing money at a problem that's not going to get solved" speech then?
And the rest of you lawmakers. The ones who insist the auto companies show you a plan before you help them. You've already handed over $150 billion of our tax money to AIG. How come you never demanded a plan from it? How come when AIG blew through its first $85 billion, you quickly gave it more? The car companies may be losing money, but they can explain it: They're paying workers too much and selling cars for too little.
AIG lost hundreds of billions in credit default swaps — which no one can explain and which make nothing, produce nothing, employ no one and are essentially bets on failure.
And you don't demand a paragraph from it?
Look. Nobody is saying the auto business is healthy. Its unions need to adjust more. Its models and dealerships need to shrink. Its top executives have to downsize their own importance.
But this is a business that has been around for more than a century. And some of its problems are because of that, because people get used to certain wages, manufacturers get used to certain business models. It's easy to point to foreign carmakers with tax breaks, no union costs and a cleaner slate — not to mention help from their home countries — and say "be more like them."
But if you let us die, you let our national spine collapse. America can't be a country of lawyers and financial analysts. We have to manufacture. We need that infrastructure. We need those jobs. We need that security. Have you forgotten who built equipment during the world wars?
Besides, when it comes to blowing budgets, being grossly inefficient and wallowing in debt, who's better than Congress? So who are you to lecture anyone on how to run a business?
Ask fair questions. Demand accountability. But knock it off with the holier than thou crap, OK? You got us into this mess with greed, a bad Fed policy and too little regulation. Don't kick our tires to make yourselves look better.
Reach Mitch Albom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Detroit Free Press