Planet Gore

Janesville: Ryan vs. Obama

“(But) I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this (General Motors) plant will be here for another hundred years,” said Barack Obama in February, 2008, promising UAW workers at GM’s giant, troubled plant in Janesville, Wisc., that he would watch over them if elected president. “When I talk about real change that will make a real difference in the lives of working families, it’s not just the poll-tested rhetoric of a political campaign. It’s the cause of my life. And you can be sure that it will be the cause of my presidency from the very first day I take office.”

It was just poll-tested rhetoric.

Before Obama was sworn in, the Janesville plant closed in late 2008, eliminating 6,000 jobs. And by his first day in office, Obama had forgotten the people of Janesville and the big SUVs they used to build. Obama not only didn’t keep his promise to the south Wisconsin town, he pursued an energy policy that rewarded politically connected green investors (see Solyndra and Fisker) while making it harder for Janesville to revive the trucks it once produced.

Janesville would be forgotten like so many Obama political promises but for one fateful turn of history: Janesville is the hometown of Paul Ryan.

The now-vice presidential nominee’s ears likely burned in 2008 because he was on the front lines trying to save a light truck plant in his backyard — even as a presidential nominee notorious for his public contempt for GM’s truck products parachuted into his district to pose as a savior. Last week, Ryan reminded America of Obama’s failed promise.

“I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he’ll keep that plant open — one more broken promise,” Ryan said. “One of the reasons that plant got shut down is $4 gasoline. You see, this costs jobs. The president’s terrible energy policies are costing us jobs.”

Another reason was $70-an-hour UAW wage-benefit rates compared with Toyota’s $48 hourly wage. Ryan’s speech provides some insight into the conservative policy wonk’s complex political background: a popular, six-term conservative who represents blue and white collars in a politically split Wisconsin district, who lobbied for government help for Janesville, and who voted for Barack Obama’s auto bailout.

But the Janesville closing is more revealing of Obama.

His liberal media allies were quick to pounce on Ryan’s comments. “GM stopped production at its Janesville, Wisconsin production facility in 2008, when George W. Bush was still president,” barked the Daily Kos, filling in Ryan’s obvious blank (true enough, unfriendly-to-Detroit-truck mpg laws are also the legacy of George “We’re Addicted to Oil” Bush).

But the Left misses the point. Under Obamanomics, the government picks winners and losers. Obama promised Janesville would be a winner even as his economic policies guaranteed it would always be a loser. Indeed, Obama’s whole 2008 Janesville speech is a sobering road map for the job-killing policies he has put in place as president.

Were Obama serious about American manufacturing, he would allow energy companies to explore (Gulf drilling moratorium), would facilitate bringing those resources to market (blocking the Keystone pipeline), allow companies to hire employees without massive medical costs (Obamacare), encourage flexible, non-union shops (demonizing Boeing, the UAW bailout), and stop forcing companies to make products consumers don’t want (electric cars, windmills, etc.).

Then Janesville might still have promise.

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

Most Popular



For your amusement, I hope, I’ve done a Jaywalking episode. It begins with a bit of the overture to Semiramide -- a Rossini opera I reviewed from the Met last week. Then I get into Russia and, after a while, China. The Marriott company fired an employee for “liking” a tweet by a Tibetan independence group. ... Read More

Campaigns for World Down Syndrome Day Go Viral

As World Down Syndrome Day approaches on Wednesday, several campaigns supporting those with the condition have taken over the Internet. Fifty mothers of children with the condition put together a viral video of them and their children singing along in the car. The video helped the children and their mothers ... Read More

Viva l’Italia?

Italy has just had elections, with very interesting results. I wanted to talk with Alberto Mingardi, which I have. He is one of the leading classical liberals in Italy -- the director general of the Bruno Leoni Institute, in Milan. (Mingardi himself is Milanese.) He is also an authority in arts and letters. In ... Read More

Putin and the Cult of Leadership

On Sunday, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin won an unsurprising reelection-campaign victory against Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, by a margin of 76.7 percent to 11.8 percent. The results were unsurprising because Putin is a tyrant who murders or imprisons political rivals, and who isn’t afraid to use ... Read More

Trump and Brexit Derangement Syndrome

I am not one of those Brexiteers who believe that Brexit and Trumpism are essentially the same phenomenon in two different countries. To be sure, they both draw on some of the same political trends, notably a distrust of elites and an upsurge of popular anger over evident failures of public policy such as illegal ... Read More