November 18th, 2008
12:32 PM ET

Excuse me automakers: Is that my stapler?

Tom Foreman
AC360° Correspondent

I’m looking into the claims of the auto industry about all the bad things that will happen without a bailout, and I can’t help but think about that guy Milton in the movie Office Space.

The big car makers and their unions are making a powerful case for taxpayers (that means you, BTW) to pony up some dough and help them out of their troubles. They say too many jobs, too many towns, too many states will suffer too badly if their industry is not rescued. Anarchy will rule. Dogs will sleep with cats. Apocalypse now.

Problem is, making the case for a bailout seems to be the most popular game in DC these days, no matter what troubled industry is on the table. The argument is always the same: We’re too big to fail, and if we do, we’ll take all of you down with us. It’s like big businesses all over have wrapped themselves in a shield of taxpayer-hostages.

I’m not dismissing their arguments. There is a lot of truth in the notion that if we let some of these big firms fold, we’ll all feel the collapse in our own finances.

I also have no idea how many will ultimately be bailed out, but I’m pretty sure the government money train will screech to a halt right before it reaches my station…or yours.

Which is why I’m thinking about Milton Waddam. I keep seeing images in my mind of all of us normal taxpayers, struggling to pay bills, put kids through college, maybe save a little money, keep our jobs and our sanity; finally reaching the point where we say, “Enough! We need a bailout, too!” And at the moment, I suspect, we’ll be like Milton waiting on that slice of party cake. We will be polite, patient, and quietly dismayed as we slowly realize everyone else has gotten theirs, and nothing is left for us.

The thing Washington has to worry about, however, is not Milton’s disappointment, but Milton’s revenge. Don’t forget the end of the movie. The taxpayers who buy the bailout arguments now are expecting results. They expect the economy to get better, and if it doesn’t, Democratic and Republican politicians can expect those taxpayers to get even when the next election roles around.

Filed under: Bailout Turmoil • Economy • Finance • Raw Politics • Tom Foreman
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Karen Pierce Gonzalez

    Bailout, Bailout, Bailout. Whatever happened to the idea that we were responsible for our choices? These auto industries took their eyes off the road years ago when they decided not to expand their energy-efficient lines.
    In my household, we watch our budget and when it looks like times are slim, we slow down the spending AND we get creative, even entrepreneurial about meeting our needs.
    We do this for two reasons:
    1) We don't want to go under financially
    2) We want to rolemodel the basics of fiscal responsibility for our daughter who will, one day, be an adult in this crazy world. We'd like to think she's not so delayed-gratified that she won't be able to take care of herself!

    November 18, 2008 at 3:15 pm |
  2. Kenneth

    It'll be hard to get even when the next election rolls around if we're all in dire straits or even homeless. I think we all need to take a stand right now, before it gets to that point. I read a book by Louis Kestenbaum, about how life is too short to sit around waiting for karma to work for you or to get revenge. There's a lot of truth to that. It would be great if all of us "Miltons" could be a bit more proactive, that's for sure!

    November 18, 2008 at 2:56 pm |
  3. Jean Rachel

    There never should have been any "bailouts" by the government paid for by the public. The wall street gluttons and the Big 3 auto makers should be forced to follow bankruptcy proceedings, be monitored closely by judges and economists, and not be allowed to outsouce any jobs to other countries at any time. There also should be a legal cap on what CEOs can make and take from a company. Bonus pays should be tied to the "real profitablity' of each company-and if a company sinks-the CEO doesn't get a dime. America has become the land of spend and run. For over 20 years the American auto industry deliberately ignored the fact that smaller autos would have been better on the environment and would cost less to make-thus netting solid profitability to the automakers. NO BAILOUTS! BANKRUPTCY HUMBLES FOLKS AND LENDERS TEND TO BE MORE CAREFUL.

    November 18, 2008 at 2:50 pm |
  4. Jack

    The republican view has been to totally support big business and dump on labor as an excuse for all that is wrong with the republican supported deregulation in every thing from the labor department to the energy department.

    This viewpoint is what has led to the demise of the middle class in America and one of the reasons that the republicans have been thrown out of Washington. Pat Bucannon wrote an article in todays newspaper that talks about the republicans missing the boat and he's a republican.

    November 18, 2008 at 2:38 pm |
  5. Joe Brzezinski

    I have owned GM trucks my entire driving life 30+ years and the vehicle I own now has been the most costly to maintain and design flawed truck I have ever owned. During my last communication with GM regarding a known defect with the truck their response was “Sorry no good will in this matter”. I made the decision to never give GM another cent. So as far as I’m concerned I feel no good will toward GM, How dare they expect money from the taxpayers when it’s their own incompetence that has but them in the position they are in today? Why doesn’t the UAW kick in a little, after all they helped to drag them down?

    November 18, 2008 at 2:37 pm |
  6. Tony

    Having been in the airline industry for a number of years, we were ask to accept pay cuts to save our airline, this still continues in the industry today.

    My question is what have the employees of Wall Street or the Auto industry been ask to do to save their industries and jobs?

    November 18, 2008 at 2:17 pm |
  7. Jennifer

    Please no bailouts!! Period. The CEO of Ford and GMC are no doubt Republicans who up until the credit crunch screamed (with all of its lobbying money) – small government. What these Republicans truly mean is no money for the small but all for the rich. Give me a break. Let them fail, in fact, let those who weren't prudent fail. The end result will be more reasonable prices for all of those products, houses, land that had their prices driven beyond their value.

    November 18, 2008 at 2:11 pm |
  8. xtina, chicago IL

    Two ways of looking at it. Why put taxpyr money into a bad business model? The other hand: no one wants to see the hard-working people lose jobs. I'm glad Im not a politician.

    November 18, 2008 at 2:10 pm |
  9. Cindy

    Unfortunately I think that we will have to bail the 3 automakers out. If they fail not only will the ones working for them lose their jobs but other companies associated with the auto industry will go under. That will lead to a huge downfall in our economy!

    But I do think that we need to set up some type of commission to overlook what they are doing and how they spend the money. That way we can be sure that they are doing right and spending the money wisely to get themselves out of trouble. We should in no way just give them a check and send them on their merry way to do as they please. If we do that they'll do like AIG and waste the money then come crawling back for more.


    November 18, 2008 at 2:04 pm |