Planet Gore

Switchgate: Tort toadies seeding fear

Americans can be excused if they are getting whiplash from the Democratic party’s sudden about face on General Motors. For the last five years, Government Motors was key to Democratic electoral success as President Obama bailed out the company to preserve the gravy train of UAW contributions to Democrats — and to ensure reelection for key politicians (including himself) in crucial swing states like Michigan and Ohio. As recently as this January, Obama invited GM CEO Mary Barra to the State of the Union address to celebrate Democrats’ close ties to GM.

That was then, this is now.

In the wake of revelations that a defective ignition switch in Chevy Cobalt, Saturn Ions, and other vehicles may have played a part in 13 deaths, the party’s tort lobby has taken over the driver’s seat from the UAW. Follow the money.

With the prospect of millions at stake in tort fees, trail-lawyer-fed Democrats are taking the lead in roasting GM (the government’s ownership conveniently ended a month before the Switchgate revelations emerged last year). On Tuesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) grandstanded before the cameras that CEO Barra (No kind words for the first female CEO, senator? Are you a combatant in the War on Women?) must disclose when dealers will have replacement ignitions for recalled cars. Blumenthal – a veteran of the tobacco shakedown (as Connecticut AG) and global-warming hysteria – counts the legal lobby as his #1 campaign contributor.

GM has said it may be October before it has enough ignition parts to fix 2.6 million vehicles worldwide. In the meantime, the company is reassuring owners that the cars are safe to drive if only a key is on the keychain (a fact I confirmed in test-driving a 2006 Cobalt this week).

But rather than join the public service announcement, Blumenthal is panicking customers by declaring GM cars death traps.

“I have repeatedly called on GM to tell customers that recalled vehicles are unsafe to drive until they can be repaired,” he says.

That’s contrary to GM’s experts. And it would inconvenience thousands of low-income Cobalt owners who need their vehicles to get to work. But like his fellow tort toadies, Senators Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) and Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) Blumenthal would rather seed fear.

Henry Payne — Henry Payne is the auto critic for the Detroit News.

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