Yesterday, I confronted outgoing General Motors CEO Dan Akerson, the speaker at a National Press Club luncheon. At a press conference beforehand, and through the first question at the conclusion of his remarks, I requested that GM repay taxpayers the $10 billion in direct GM bailout costs.
Akerson’s refusal dominated much of the media coverage of the event. This was clearly not the story line that Akerson intended. In short, we happily stepped all over his message that the bailout is a success and that GM is back.
The USA Today/Detroit Free Press story is headlined. “GM’s CEO rejects repaying Feds for bailout losses…” Drudge linked to it. The Associated Press story centers around Akerson’s reasons for not repaying the government. If the comments by readers at various newspapers are any indication, we touched a nerve.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank attended my press conference and penned a sneering critique of me and belittled the event itself. He wrote that “few people have heard of Flaherty or what he thinks of the bailout.”
I may not be a household name, but the National Legal and Policy Center has been a persistent critic of the auto bailout through dozens of TV appearances and op-eds, and hundreds of blog posts. In October, we conducted a survey of consumers in Texas, the largest pickup truck market, about whether the bailout would negatively affect purchasing choices. (Sixty percent said it would; Texas is the nation’s largest pickup truck market, and high-margin pickup trucks sales are essential to GM’s profitability.)
In short, we do serious policy work that began as a challenge to Bush administration’s use of TARP funds for the initial GM bailout. At the time I was a regular guest on CNBC, so I had many opportunities to criticize.
I get it. Milbank is a political columnist so he writes about the politics of policy debates, but I would expect him to pay at least passing attention to the merits of the debate, or maybe even concede a point or two. Instead, his knee starts jerking.
What really seems to bother Milbank is not only that some people are not enraptured by the bailouts, but that they would dare express themselves. To the partisan mind, policy differences equal a political disloyalty that must be discredited and crushed.
I get the sense that most of what Milbank knows about the auto bailout is what he could glean from Akerson’s 18-minute speech yesterday. He really didn’t need much more. One advantage of being a political hack is that you never have to make up your mind.
Contrary to Milbank’s portrayal of the bailouts’ success being obvious to everyone, they are still unpopular. As of this writing (2:10 PM) there are 915 comments on his piece on the Washington Post website, not known as an online gathering spot for conservatives. Also, you must register to post. Yet we see the same sentiments as expressed elsewhere in the country on all kinds of sites. Deep, fervent resentment of the bailouts is held by people of all political stripes.
The real kicker is Milbank putting the whole thing in the context of Obamacare. Poor President Obama will have to put up with right-wing die hards long after Obamacare is a rip-roaring success. Since Milbank doesn’t take me seriously (nor perhaps anyone else who disagrees with him), I’ll simply provide a link to a New York Times piece titled “The Obamacare Crisis” by Tom Edsall, formerly of the Washington Post. Since Edsall is a liberal and the analysis is through a liberal prism, maybe Milbank can wade through it.
It’s a good piece because it is rich in detail that hopefully will not be beyond Milbank’s grasp. It also explains why Obamacare is not likely to work.
In any case, I managed to step all over Akerson’s message yesterday, but Milbank failed to step on mine. Better luck next time, Dana.