Self Interest Trumps the American Interest

The news when I went to sleep last night was that a tentative deal had been made in the Senate to placate the nitwitted, ideological interests of the few southern Republican Senators that had expressed grave, indeed hyperbolic, misgivings over the auto bailout.

The news when I woke up this morning was more like this: three out of their mind people, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama have decided to triple-handedly screw everyone.

Here’s what Steve Benen had to say at The Washington Monthly:

The Neo-Hooverite caucus apparently seems willing to wear the label with pride.

Hilzoy noted the developments overnight, but I have to admit, I’m still struggling to understand how the Senate GOP could have successfully pulled this off. Let me get this straight: the Bush White House reached a deal with congressional Democrats on a $14 billion rescue package, and the compromise passed the House with a bipartisan majority. Some Senate Republicans not only opposed the measure, but refused to let the chamber vote on the bailout unless a series of unreasonable changes were made.

Democrats, hoping to stave off disaster, went along, and agreed to Republican demands to reduce the United Auto Workers’ wages and benefits as soon as the UAW’s current contract expired in 2011. The GOP, led in this case by Sens. Corker, Shelby, and DeMint, said that wasn’t good enough — autoworker wages had to be cut in 2009, or else. The deal fell apart, the Asian markets tumbled, U.S. futures tumbled, and at least one of the Big Three is poised to collapse.

This, for lack of a better word, is madness. But what I really don’t understand is why the rest of the Republican caucus in the Senate went along with this. Corker, Shelby, and DeMint are three far-right lawmakers from the Deep South, but they were only able to pull this off last night because there weren’t enough reasonable Republicans left.

He quotes John Judis of The New Republic, who I will cull words from more liberally:

Here’s what bothers me. Japanese companies, which for years have benefited from one-way deal by which they could sell cars in the U.S. while U.S. companies were stymied in selling cars and trucks in Japan, set up non-union plants in low-wage, low-education, right-to-work states where they can pay less wages and benefits to their workers. Of course, in Japan, these same companies recognize and work with unions, but not here, where they have a chance to undercut American firms that work with unions. Corker and these other great patriots want to allow these Japanese companies to dictate the wages and benefits that American companies pay their workers. It’s despicable. Imagine, for a moment, American companies being allow to operate in this manner in Japan or South Korea. It would not happen.

Of course, this is not just about automobile companies. If you look at the history of the Great Depression, what tipped that event from a global recession to depression was precisely a series of dumb, craven–or in Keynes’ word, “feather-brained”–moves by politicians blinded by ideology or by narrow self-interest. An interest rate hike here, a balanced budget there, a spending reduction or two, and we went from ten to twenty percent unemployment. Don’t imagine for a moment that the failure to bailout the auto companies isn’t one of those feather-brained moves.

Put it this way. What we have learned from the economics of the Great Depression is that in order to end the spiral of unemployment, government has to throw money at companies and consumers. It should be trying to raise wages, not lower them. The Wall Street bailout was a fiasco, but it was probably better than nothing. And the auto bailout was considerably better thought-out. Now there is a good prospect that two of the Big Three will fail, jeopardizing, perhaps, as many as a million jobs. That’s exactly the kind of thing that Americans should not be doing. But don’t tell that to those great patriots Corker, DeMint, or Shelby. They know better.

Frankly this is disgusting.  International markets have tumbled at the prospect that one or more of these companies will file for bankruptcy protection.  Millions of jobs are at stake (in states that the GOP lost by a significant margin — one would think they would at least of politics in mind).  Even for their constituents in  South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama this is not a good move.  A bad economy is a bad economy for everyone, even if the ripples effects aren’t felt at those foreign auto company’s plants for a long time.

It’s shame that we have to continue to cowtow to the ideological bad ideas of people who have nothing but their own interest at stake.  How many tragedies throughout history have been wrought by a small band of partisans, trying to save their own skins rather than help their country?  That should be a lesson well learned by now.

It’s enough to make me riot.  Far from the masses Jim DeMint said would come out an riot in the event of an auto bailout, I fear we have just seen the beginning of a terrible, unemployed and angry future.

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One response to “Self Interest Trumps the American Interest

  1. This is even worse when you add that these states used massive tax rebates and other taxpayer subsidized programs to attact the foreign auto makers. The hypocrisy is quite astounding. Why aren’t the car dealers in these states screaming?? I am sure they were all big contributors to the Republican Party.

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