Detroit News business columnist Dan Howes reports that the Obama administration has prodded Ford Motor Co. to pull its TV ad featuring a Ford (pick up) buyer saying that he wasn't going to buy a vehicle from any company that received a government bailout because that was un-American. Notes Howes:
[T]he White House questioned whether the copy was publicly denigrating the controversial bailout policy CEO Alan Mulally repeatedly supported in the dark days of late 2008, in early '09 and again when the ad flap arose. And more.
With President Barack Obama tuning his re-election campaign amid dismal economic conditions and simmering antipathy toward his stimulus spending and associated bailouts, the Ford ad carried the makings of a political liability when Team Obama can least afford yet another one. Can't have that.
The ad, pulled in response to White House questions (and, presumably, carping from rival GM), threatened to rekindle the negative (if accurate) association just when the president wants credit for their positive results (GM and Chrysler are moving forward, making money and selling vehicles) and to distance himself from any public downside of his decision.
In other words, where presidential politics and automotive marketing collide — clean, green, politically correct vehicles not included — the president wins and the automaker loses because the benefit of the battle isn't worth the cost of waging it.
President Obama had assured everyone that just because GM and Chrysler got close to $100 billion in government money didn't mean that the government would start bullying the companies to do its bidding. But evidently bullying their rivals that didn't take government money is just fine.
One nit to pick with Howes' otherwise excellent account: He implies that Ford did not reject bailout money out of some high-minded principle. It was quite happy to accept government help to "retool" its plants in the past. But the "retooling" money that Howes is alluding to was meant to help the auto industry meet the government's hugely expensive CAFÉ mandate. Of course, Ford is not unsullied by government money. No company is or can be given the complex web of government regulations and subsidies that governs economic activity. But the bailout was not just like any other government handout. It was a handout that explicitly, expressly propped up Ford's failing rivals and therefore implicitly penalized it. Not allowing Ford to market that fact to distinguish itself from them is tantamount to imposing a double jeopardy on it.
Ford's campaign to sell cars has to yield to the president's campaign to sell himself. How is that for free enterprise and free speech in America?
Hat Tip: Sean Higgins, Investors Business Daily.