Obama, GM and Silly Psuedo-Constitutional Arguments

The Beltway media gives credence to, and amplifies, every partisan accusation, no matter how thin.

There's much to criticize in the government bail-outs of GM and Chrysler.

But WaPo editorial writer Charles Lane doesn’t worry about the fact that we’ve allowed companies deemed “too big to fail” to proliferate — firms that can be mismanaged into the ground and have every expectation of a tax-payer bailout. He doesn’t worry about the moral hazard inherent in that kind of state-supported capitalism -- of shifting risk from private investors to the American tax-payer -- or the fact that we'll subsidize Detroit auto-makers as they offshore scads of good manufacturing jobs.

Instead, he examines a conservative talking-point about the Mad Megalomania of Barack Obama and, in doing so, gives it weight and legitimacy it doesn't appear to merit.

Let’s take a look:

Nationalizing General Motors, and part of Chrysler, may or may not turn out to be a good deal for the taxpayers. I have a different concern, though: Was it constitutional?

With hundreds of thousands of jobs on the line, this may seem a churlish question. Then again, the temptation to bend the rules of democracy is always greatest in a crisis. It wasn't so long ago that a president claimed the power to do all sorts of questionable things -- from waterboarding to electronic surveillance -- because the country faced a crisis.  

Watch the writer’s trick: first draw a ridiculously false equivalence, and then assert that you’re not really saying what it seems you’re saying:

Bailing out Detroit is not in the same category, morally, as torture.

Good to know.

Still, a presidential decision to federalize a vast sector of the U.S. economy affects the country's vital interests and, potentially, the rights of its citizens. Such an extraordinary measure should rest on the firmest possible foundation of democratic legitimacy. Does President Obama's rescue of GM and Chrysler meet the test?

Lane then offers another dubious analog:

The classic statement on such matters comes from Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson's opinion in a case about another crisis-driven assertion of executive power: President Harry S. Truman's seizure of steel mills in 1952. Truman wanted to prevent a strike during the Korean War; the court blocked him.

Truman nationalized the steel mills to break a strike over wage controls.  The U.S. steel industry was profitable. GM and Chrysler were going belly-up, and the government intervened to save hundreds of thousands of jobs.


Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.
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