"Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.” So says Vice President Joseph Biden in laying out two good bumper sticker reasons to reelect President Obama. It is brilliant shorthand for the accomplishments of the current administration. Define the election as a monster being killed and thousands of jobs being saved and how can the nation fail to reward its leader? The Republicans realize half of this.
Mitt Romney does the best he can by stating the obvious -- that any president would have reacted the same way Obama did, given the chance to kill bin Laden-- and then chiding the administration for politicizing the death. Perhaps that chiding stopped Obama’s people from pointing out that they accomplished in three years something George W. Bush was not able to do in seven. To be fair, Obama noted that it was years of effort predating his time in the White House that resulted in the shooting in Abbottabad, and that he did call Bush to tell him what had happened. As a human being Obama did the proper thing. As a politician, Romney finds a traditional Republican trump – the claim Democrats are by nature soft military leaders – pulled. Score one for Obama for melting a Republican sword.
The second part of the slogan “General Motors is alive” is much more politically pregnant. To Democrats, this is an unalloyed good. A major driver of the economy is still producing jobs, income and products. Romney has a different view. He made his fortune from the failure of companies such as General Motors. He would pick over the bones of failed firms, finding value where he could and pocketing millions for the trouble. The rescue of General Motors by Washington took away business and profits from Romney and his ilk, and Romney has bitterly attacked it, even, to his credit, in Michigan. There is a legitimate economic argument to be made for Romney’s position, which was famously summed up by Andrew Mellon, Herbert Hoover’s treasury secretary. Asked for advice to fight the Great Depression, Mellon said "liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate… it will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up from less competent people.”
As an economic platform, that has intellectual weight. If resources are not providing a return, they should be put to other uses. As a social platform it is awful, causing profound human misery. It can only truly appeal to folks who, like Romney, believe that it is easy for a person to borrow from their families to start a business or go to college.
So “General Motors is alive” is a good rally cry for both parties. For the accolades of Romney it shows the rottenness of the system. For supporters of the pragmatic Obama, it is proof government can make a real difference in the lives of many people if it understands their needs and acts on their behalf.
If the election is defined that way, the next bumper sticker should read: “Obama Alive, Romney gone.”