Time Is Running Out To Do The Right Thing

Juan Williams, that well-known conservative, explains the auto bailout:

Well, I hate to be Ebenezer Scrooge about this, but you know what? I don’t think people are mad at the unions. I think they’re mad at the people who have been running these auto companies and running them into a ditch, Bill.I think that they’ve been running them badly and that’s why most Americans think that this bailout is a mistake. They think it’s a mistake to reward failure.

Williams isn’t a conservative, of course, but neither is he caught in the wave of fear that seems to have gripped President Bush and his advisors. They seem to be convinced that by resisting the pleas to give the Big Three funds without significant restructuring requirements they will worsen their historical legacy. It is simply bad policy to let the Big Three and the U.A.W. off the hook — and ultimately fatal to the chances of the latter’s members for long-term employment. Indeed it’s a bad deal for everyone (taxpayers, the Big Three and their employees.)

Williams is right: the window of opportunity to do the right thing is closing. The Bush administration is said to be looking at all the options, including a prepackaged bankruptcy plan. That, or something approximating the Corker Plan, would be a smart move and spare Bush from earning the moniker The President Who Nationalized the Auto Industry.

Contrary to what is said by Democrats, much of the media, and UAW-apologists, the Republicans didn’t crush the bailout bill because they are mean or indifferent. They didn’t do it to dance on the grave of the U.S. auto industry. They did it because, as just about anyone who has looked at this rationally has been telling us, it is utterly counterproductive to give the Big Three more money without insisting on their prompt and dramatic restructuring. Absent that, the Big Three (or however many survive) will become perpetual corporate welfare recipients.

Perhaps the White House and Treasury officials looking over this have that concern in mind and are working on a meaningful plan. (The fact that they didn’t immediate fork over TARP funds is a hopeful sign.) But if instead the Bush administration gives billions away without a real requirement for the car companies to align their costs with foreign owned competitors, we’ll look back on this opportunity and wonder why no one had the nerve to practice some tough love.