Histrionics aside, Granholm has a point

Guest Editorial
Michigan residents likely had a range of reactions to the highly animated speech given recently by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm at the Democratic National Convention.

Supporters were likely as enthusiastic as the gathering of convention delegates who roared their approval as Granholm shouted praise for President Barack Obama for saving hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs across the country.

Critics, including those who well remember the dismal times of her eight years in office, were not as impressed, even suggesting that her performance was so over the top as to be nearly unhinged.

Anyone who missed it can easily find the speech on the Internet. It shows a Granholm far more emotional than the woman who governed the state for much of the last decade.

It’s too bad, though, if critiques of her speaking style obscure the point she so vividly made. The American auto industry was on the brink of a collapse when Obama took office. While, others, particularly Republican lawmakers in Washington, were willing to let the industry hit bottom, an Obama-inspired bailout prevented financial disaster from befalling General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.

Here’s how Granholm put it:

“We looked everywhere for help. Almost nobody had the guts to help us — not the banks, not the private investors and not Bain Capital. Then in 2009, the cavalry arrived: our new president, Barack Obama, came in.”

Granholm was correct in praising Obama, although she left out a significant part of the story line. The nation’s 44th president might not have had an auto industry to save if his predecessor, George W. Bush, hadn’t approved a $17.4 billion loan at the end of 2008.

Bush has taken criticism from his own party for decisions like that. It may be one reason why the most recent Republican president did not attend this year’s GOP national convention.

Surely, the auto bailout was not a popular issue on Capitol Hill. While lawmakers were only too willing to dish out billions of dollars to the financial community, they treated automakers with contempt and hostility.

That’s why Bush had to do an end-run to redirect money to automakers that had been approved for other purposes. He just wasn’t going to get legislative approval, even from some Democrats, to help the auto industry.

It was an incredibly shortsighted and vindictive position by lawmakers who put their feud with unions ahead of the need of the nation. The economic repercussions of a failed auto industry would have been an financial tsunami for the nation, as Bush has repeatedly said.

Still, it was Obama who took an even more massive step by providing funds for GM and Chrysler. In so doing, according to Granholm’s numbers, he saved jobs in the following state-by-state accounting: 9,000 in Colorado, 19,000 in Virginia, 25,000 in North Carolina, 28,000 in Wisconsin, 35,000 in Pennsylvania, 35,000 in Florida, 150,000 in Ohio and 211,000 in Michigan.

For those keeping score, that’s more than a half-million high-paying manufacturing jobs, most concentrated in the so-called swing states that political observers say will determine the presidential race.

The nation’s loss of manufacturing jobs hurt Michigan more than any other state because it had the most to lose. The state and the state’s budget suffered dearly because of it. Granholm was governor at the time. While her reaction to the crisis is fair game, she continues to take unfair criticism for economic conditions beyond her control.

Similarly, the style of her speech last week may be open for debate. But she was right on with the content. When Michigan’s key industry needed help, it was Obama who came through.