For a hot New York minute the other night, it looked like there might be hope for David Letterman.
And then Rachel Maddow brought him back to obedience. (video after page break)
Based on Letterman's previous fawning reverence for President Obama, what he did on Tuesday night was extraordinary: he called out Obama on a blatant falsehood about the auto bailout in the third presidential debate --
LETTERMAN: Here's what upset me last night, this playing fast and loose with facts. And the President Obama cites the op-ed piece that Romney wrote about Detroit, let 'em go bankrupt, let 'em go bankrupt. And last night he brings it up again -- oh no, governor, you said let 'em go bankrupt, blah blah blah, let 'em go bankrupt. And Mitt said, no no, check the thing, check the thing, check the thing. Now, I don't care whether you're Republican or Democrat, you want your president to be telling the truth. You want the contender to be lying. (Maddow and the audience laugh). And so when we found out today or soon thereafter that, in fact, President Obama was not telling the truth about what was excerpted from that op-ed piece, I felt discouraged.
MADDOW: Because the 'let Detroit go bankrupt' headline, you feel like was inappropriate?
LETTERMAN: Well, the fact that the president is invoking it and swearing that he was right and that Romney was wrong and I thought, well, he's the president, of course he's right. Well, it turned out, no, he was taking liberties with that.
MADDOW (keenly aware of inexplicable turn in Letterman's politics): I think what the president was saying, and I don't want to be the fact-check arbiter of this, everybody's checked their own facts on this, but I think what the president was saying was, your big idea when the auto industry was on the brink of disappearing in this country and that means millions of jobs, your big idea was that private financing would come in and rescue them, they could go bankrupt and private finance, and that was at a time when there was no private finance in the country, the credit markets were absolutely locked. Mr. Romney's own firm, Bain, was asked if you would potentially like to get involved and be a part of a private financing rescue program for the auto industry, and that just didn't exist.
So had we gone with Romney's 'let Detroit go bankrupt' plan, there would be no auto industry. And I think the president said it with more nuance at the earlier debate ...
LETTERMAN: Right ...
MADDOW: ... the one that he lost (Maddow's attempt at balance and accuracy) and so he lost some of the nuance and got pointier so it would sound better, but maybe in losing the nuance it didn't come out as accurately.
LETTERMAN (caving like a house of cards during an earthquake): Yea-, yeah, part of it is that I just don't know what I'm talking about. (more laughter from Maddow and lemmings in audience)
Ah, nuance -- a word beloved among liberals if ever there was one. Translation: only those so keenly sensitive as moi can discern what is being expressed by politicians for proper regurgitation to the unwashed "American-Idol"-watching masses.
Equally amusing is Maddow's alleged disinterest in the role of "fact-check arbiter," followed by her doing exactly that and, as to be expected, getting it wrong. Which comes as no surprise considering her belief that everyone is entitled to "their own facts."
Let's start with the basis for Letterman's brief, brave foray into criticism of Obama, the president's deceitful claim about Romney's op-ed in the New York Times on Nov. 18, 2008, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
The candidates tussled over this late in the third debate, their exchange consisting mainly of each man denying what the other was saying. There were, however, unequivocal claims made by both candidates (transcript of debate), cited here in condensed fashion shorn of crosstalk --
Romney: "My plan to get the industry on its feet when it was in real trouble was not to start writing checks. I disagreed with that. I said they need -- these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy. And in that process they can get government help and government guarantees, but they need to go through bankruptcy to get rid of excess cost and the debt burden they've -- they'd built up."
Obama: "You did not say that you would provide government help."
That's it in a nutshell -- Romney saying he wanted struggling automakers to go through "managed bankruptcy" with "government help and government guarantees," Obama claiming Romney wanted no "government help," preferring instead to consign the industry to free-market savagery during a brutal recession.
Fortunately, there's a straightforward way to resolve this, as every conservative who's argued with a liberal about it is already aware -- citing what Romney actually wrote in that New York Times op-ed nearly four years ago. Here are the relevant excerpts --
It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition. I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research -- on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like -- that will ultimately benefit the automotive industry, along with many others. I believe Washington should raise energy research spending to $20 billion a year, from the $4 billion that is spent today. The research could be done at universities, at research labs and even through public-private collaboration. The federal government should also rectify the embedded tax penalties that favor foreign carmakers.
But don't ask Washington to give shareholders and bondholders a free pass -- they bet on management and they lost.
The American auto industry is vital to our national interest as an employer and as a hub for manufacturing. A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs. The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk.
In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.
"Post-bankruptcy financing" from Washington. Along with the government covering carmakers' warranties. Plus a fivefold surge in taxpayer-funded spending on research. Sure sounds like government help to me, regardless of the vigor with which Obama and Maddow close their eyes and cover their ears.
Eight months after Romney's op-ed ran, and just as he suggested, General Motors entered into managed bankruptcy in exchange for more federal funding as promised by the Obama administration.
By then, Chrysler had already gone down a similar path, though not before a questionable detour. The United Auto Workers union, which had donated $24 million to Democrats since 2000 (compared to less than $200,000 to Republicans), received a 55 percent stake in the company while secured creditors, usually first in line during a lawful bankruptcy, were left with 29 cents on the dollar for their loans.
Meanwhile, some 21,000 non-union workers at Delphi, a major GM parts supplier, lost their health insurance and huge chunks of their pensions while unionized employees were protected from these losses.
All told, Obama added $60 billion to the $24 billion that Bush diverted to automakers from TARP -- but Obama did not do so until Chrysler and GM agreed to managed bankruptcies.
What Obama, Maddow and equally dishonest liberals are doing is conflating bankruptcy with liquidation. The Borders bookstore chain filed for bankruptcy and then liquidated -- which is why Borders no longer exists. Chrysler and GM underwent bankruptcy with government backing and loans -- again, as Romney suggested. Both companies, not incidentally, still exist.
The auto bailout bluster from the left relies heavily on a half-truth -- that no substantial private financing was available for the industry with the economy in freefall late in 2008. Which is true -- given the companies' unsustainable costs, pensions and other obligations prior to bankruptcy.
An analogy comes to mind: the auto industry was like a widely respected architect who was hard-working, reliable, innovative and abundantly compensated -- until he was beset with a ruinous gambling addiction. The man stopped getting work, fell into debt and tried repeatedly without success to borrow money. Each time he failed, since word had gotten out that whatever was lent to him for a major project could be lost on a single dumb bet in a casino. No financier would risk such folly.
Then the man found religion, turned his life around, put the gambling behind him and focused on work like he never had before. Slowly but steadily his reputation was restored, along with his finances and credit. Just as surely, the bankers who once turned the man away began calling him with offers.
That Obama and Maddow continue their lies about something so easily refuted provides all the evidence you need of how desperate they've become, and how important this pernicious myth has become to them.