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Published: Sunday, 2/26/2012

COMMENTARY

Romney's 'defense' of auto industry doesn't go

BY TED STRICKLAND

As residents of the state that picks presidents, we Ohioans have seen our fair share of politicking over the years. But what we've seen from the Republican presidential field in the past few months has been extraordinary.

The candidates have engaged in good old-fashioned mudslinging, against each other and President Obama, trying to see what attack or claim will stick. None has, but they continue to play fast and loose with the truth.

Mitt Romney's latest gem is a prime example. He claims that he supported the rescue of the U.S. auto industry, and that Mr. Obama followed his lead in saying that Chrysler and General Motors needed to go through managed bankruptcies. That is an astounding inversion of the facts.

When Wall Street pushed our economy into crisis, the auto industry was on the brink of collapse. Mr. Obama took office in January, 2009, a month when the economy lost nearly 800,000 jobs.

He immediately faced a choice that would define his leadership: Take decisive action or accept the status quo. During this crucial time in American history, the President made a strong stand to save the iconic auto industry, and the jobs, families, and communities it supports.

As governor, I knew firsthand how important this decision would be to Ohio's economy. The situation was so dire that executives of Honda came to my official residence and urged me to persuade Washington not to let the Detroit 3 collapse. They knew that if GM and Chrysler went down, that would doom Honda's supply chain as well.

President Obama made the right, and courageous, call. He saved more than 1.4 million American jobs with an emergency loan that has helped turn around the industry.

Today, the Detroit 3 are making profits, gaining market share, and opening new plants. This month, GM announced the largest annual profit in its history. It's once again the world's largest automaker.

Chrysler is launching a large expansion of its Toledo assembly plant. GM is building the Chevrolet Cruze at its Lordstown plant and has expanded production there back to three shifts.

Ford soon will move medium-duty truck assembly from Mexico to Avon Lake. The domestic automakers are expected to add more shifts around Ohio and the Midwest.

The President's decision helped save a crucial part of manufacturing in the Midwest. Workers up and down the supply chain got to keep their jobs. Mr. Obama's goal was to save jobs and the economy of our region, and that's exactly what he did.

This is in direct contrast to what would have happened had Mitt Romney gotten his way. Let's not forget Mr. Romney's famous column in the New York Times, which said we should just "let Detroit go bankrupt." He opposed the financial rescue of Chrysler and GM every step of the way. That might have endeared him to the Tea Party, but it would have been devastating for Ohio and the nation.

He said that giving Chrysler and GM the rescue loans that kept them solvent during their structured bankruptcy was a mistake. But credit was frozen solid during the financial panic of 2008 and 2009, and no private interests would or could have saved the day.

If the President hadn't stepped up, neither company would have survived the recession. Their resulting liquidation would have been catastrophic to our state's and nation's economies. Mr. Obama understood this and took decisive action. We know how it worked out.

Mitt Romney was wrong when he turned his back on an industry on the brink. He's wrong today when he suggests that President Obama followed his lead on the auto rescue. If he had his way, GM and Chrysler -- and more than 1.4 million jobs that rely on a healthy Detroit -- would not exist.

Mr. Romney already lacks credibility. It only makes matters worse when he tries to revise history. Even in these days of heightened political hyperbole, his acrobatics have reached new lows.

Democrat Ted Strickland was governor of Ohio from 2007 to 2011. He is a co-chairman of President Obama's re-election campaign.



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