President Obama mocked Mitt Romney on Wednesday for saying he deserves credit for Detroit’s resurgence — despite, to this day, opposing the rescue package that experts and officials across party lines say was responsible.
“I think this is one of his Etch-a-Sketch moments,” a laughing Obama told ABC News in an interview that aired on “Good Morning America” Thursday. “I don’t think anybody takes that seriously. People remember his position, which was, ‘Let’s let Detroit go bankrupt.’ Had we followed his advice at that time, Chrysler would have gone under and we would have lost a million jobs throughout the Midwest.”
Romney told a Cleveland TV station this week that “I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy, and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet,” and therefore “I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry has come back.”
But it was a misleading claim that highlighted superficial differences between Romney’s various stated positions and the Bush and Obama administration’s actions, namely that the car companies ended up going through a managing bankruptcy, while ignoring the crucial ingredient that made it work and which he still says was a mistake: tens of billions of dollars in federal loans and guarantees. Republicans and Democrats who worked on the rescue insist that there were no private-sector loans available to keep the companies afloat through bankruptcy proceedings given the disastrous state of the finance industry at the time, which ended up requiring a much bigger bailout to prevent it from melting down.
As Obama alluded, it was also a shift in tone by Romney. Romney played up his differences with Obama much more during the Republican primary, whose voters mostly opposed federal intervention.
“The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse,” Romney wrote in an op-ed in the Detroit News in February. “I believe that without his intervention things there would be better.”
Earlier this year, President Bush defended his administration’s decision to provide emergency loans to car companies in late 2008, the decision that prompted Romney to slam the administration in a now-famous New York Times op-ed, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
“I would make the same decision again,” Bush said in a speech to car dealers earlier this year.
“I didn’t want there to be 21 percent unemployment,” he said. “I didn’t want to gamble. I didn’t want history to look back and say, ‘Bush could have done something but chose not to do it.’ And so I said, ‘No depression.’”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.