President Barack Obama stopped in Wayne, Michigan on Jan. 7 for his first speech in a three-day tour leading up to his State of the Union address. Held at a Ford Assembly plant, his speech highlighted the success of his administration’s bailout of the auto industry in 2009. Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak, however, called the president’s tour “another opportunity he’s taking to run all over the country and high-five himself.” Schostak continues to insist that the auto bailout was unnecessary, stating that there were “other options.”

Obama’s speech was more than just Obama high-fiving himself. It was ultimately a celebration of the middle class, the auto industry and Detroit. Obama did, however, highlight the success of the auto bailout. The auto bailout used $80 billion of taxpayer money and, as Obama noted, as of last month “the auto companies have now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what (his) administration invested.” Being transparent about the use of taxpayer money was, in this case, inherently self-congratulatory, but that doesn’t make it unnecessary. For a move that was so unpopular, it would be foolish not to point out its success. The president stuck his neck out for the auto industry, and showing America that he did the right thing is hardly deplorable.

The focus of the speech, however, was not the Obama administration. The emphasis quickly shifted back to the people who took the opportunity to save a newly revitalized auto industry that was given to them and ultimately made it successful. Obama made it clear that it was the workers he was addressing, and their counterparts at other plants throughout America, who made the bailout successful. To the workers, Obama declared, “because of you, manufacturing has a future in this country.” Repeatedly, he stressed that it was the autoworkers who saved America’s last bastion of manufacturing. It was the people working in both management and labor throughout the auto industry who took the money from the bailout and turned the auto industry around, helping the economy to recover. Its success wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and sacrifice of the autoworkers.

The fact that the speech was delivered at a Ford plant to Ford employees speaks to the necessity of the auto bailout. Ford never received funding from the bailout, so why would Obama go there to comment on its success? The bailout saved more than just General Motors and Chrysler. It saved an entire industry that would have fallen apart if GM and Chrysler had failed. Schostak used the fact that Ford was able to restructure on its own without government financing as proof that the bailout was unnecessary, but the Ford employees cheered for Obama when he spoke about the success of the bailout because they understand the basic economic structure of the auto industry better than Schostak. They know that Ford could not have simply restructured and become as successful as it is today if GM and Chrysler had failed. Should GM and Chrysler have failed, auto suppliers could not have survived, and Ford would have suffered as a consequence. The livelihoods of those employed by the Big Three and their suppliers depended on this bailout.

For Schostak to continue to deny the necessity and success of the auto bailout as the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party is pig-headed and misrepresents Republicans across Metro Detroit whose jobs were saved in the bailout. Furthermore, in his rush to be against anything and everything Obama-related, Schostak prematurely wrote off Obama’s speech as a mere self-congratulations, when it ended up being more about the triumphs of the auto industry, the middle class, Detroit and Michigan. After all, I think few Michiganders would disagree with Obama when he said, “this state proves no matter how tough times get, Americans are tougher.”

Mary Kate Winn is an Assistant Editorial Page Editor.

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