Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
(Jackson, Michigan - Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) None of the bailouts have made Americans particularly happy. TARP was a Bush initiative -- supported by Obama, but not of his making. The stimulus was a series of internal compromises which gave a huge part of the spending control to Congress. But the GM bailout was an Obama plan, and one the White House considers an almost unqualified success. "The contrast between where these companies" -- Chrysler and GM -- " and the auto industry are today, and the situation President Obama faced when he took office are stark," the White House wrote in a report of April of this year.
In careful language, the analysis says some 1.1 million jobs had been at risk, but that the bailout had enabled the car companies to stay afloat, restructure, and, in GM's case, repay their loan 5 years ahead of schedule. Obama called the bailout a "success," and analysts agreed.
Writing in Bloomberg Business Week, David Welch noted:
"So far, it is tough to argue that the bailout hasn’t worked. GM is in the black, having reported an $865 million profit in the first quarter with black ink looking likely for the rest of the year.... Chrysler is at least making an operating profit, which puts the company in much better shape than most analysts thought it would be a year ago."
So, you'd think this would be a big selling point for the White House, right? A political plus? Dems should be cruising in Michigan -- if nowhere else? You'd be wrong.
Because it turns out in Michigan, as in the rest of the country, a job saved is invisible, when unemployment is already in the double digits and headed north. "I don't know," bank teller Luz Guardarrama tells me, as she tries to keep her small children from wandering off into the Walmart SuperCenter parking lot in Jackson at the end of a long day. "It's just -- I'm getting tired of just, politics not being so good and honest." She voted Obama in 2008, and says she'll stay home. She liked what he promised in 2008, but doesn't think he's accomplished much, though she doesn't entirely blame him alone. But as for the President's bailout of the auto industry, the one that saved 1.1 million jobs?
"I don't think it was a good idea. It has good stuff because it brought out more jobs, but at the same time it was a lot of money, that -- I don't know. Where is it? "
President Obama was so far ahead in the swing state of Michigan in 2008 that John McCain didn't even bother to compete. In the end Obama won by nearly seventeen points. But this year, the picture is flipped upside-down. In the Governor's race, Republican Rick Snyder has held a double-digit lead over Democrat Virg Bernero. One big reason may be that even in Michigan, the GM bailout stirs up all kinds of mixed feelings.
In Jackson, Michigan, about an hour along a long flat plain due west of Detroit, in a county that is usually evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, Democratic incumbent Congressman Mark Schauer is struggling to hold on to his seat for all the usual reasons -- Republicans are fired up for change, Democrats are despondent. Schauer's Republican opponent, Tim Walberg, was the incumbent two years ago, so he can't claim, as some Republicans are doing this year, that he's a total outsider. (Small business owner is the most popular moniker Republicans are adopting.)
Schauer is fighting back hard -- and some of his messages, particularly that Walberg wants to dismantle social security, are beginning to resonate. One Republican told me she wasn't voting for Walberg, because of that. (Walberg responded to Schauer's charge by cutting an ad with his mother, reaching down into that old campaign bag-of-tricks where a parent says "you wouldn't do that to your mom, would you Tim?.")
Other message are already seeping down into the electorate, particularly the China-bashing seeping into Democratic ads. Some voters told me, after hearing that the Republicans "were sending jobs to China," they were switching their votes from red to blue.
But still, the Democrats have what looked like an ace-in-the-hole in Michigan -- one that has turned out to be more like a joker. Linda Webb, who works at Target, practically spits teeth at the thought of the bailout. "I feel they should've gave the people the money to spend to keep the companies going," she told me while pushing her grocery cart out of the local Walmart. "But they did it the opposite. They gave it to all the big people that didn't need the money. If they handed me money like they handed them, I could've went and bought a car -- it would have kept them in production."
Tough. Saving a big company -- something, after all that many Republicans would and have done -- turns out to stir up a populist sentiment against that very thing. And that's an awkward place for Democrats to be. 1.1 million jobs saved? Yeah well. The big guys are still getting helped, and the little guys aren't. Or so it seems.
Okay, so there are people with somewhat of a more complex view. Chris Tubbs, a contractor and full-time student, who voted for Obama in 2008, says he's too busy to vote this year. He was moved two years ago, but this year -- well, this is what he had to say about General Motors: "My whole family was General Motors. I had family that worked there, and laid off there, and some of them retired from there. It would've been really nice to see them do what they had to do, you know, on their own, like some of the other companies did, but um, in the long run, I think it probably wouldn't done more damage had they gone under."
Tubbs says he'll most likely stay home this year. I pushed him on what the President has been going around the country saying -- that people who voted for him in 2008 need to vote this year to protect his agenda. What does Tubbs say to that?
"I would agree with him and say I should, but it's a matter of finding the time to get away. I barely have time to buy groceries."