The Campaign Spot

On That Janesville Plant, Ryan’s Not Lyin’

The first skirmish after Paul Ryan’s sterling speech last night involved his example of the GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Ed Morrissey, Avik Roy, Guy Benson, and Shikha Dalmia are among those examining the offerings of the self-appointed “fact checkers” and finding them either mangling or botching the facts, or accusing Ryan of saying things he did not say.

First, the excerpt:

When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory.

A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you. this plant will be here for another hundred years.”

That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

A lot of liberal bloggers are insisting that the plant was “shut down” under the Bush administration. There’s the point when the orders for new vehicles stopped coming in, and the point when the plant actually completed its orders and stopped making them. One was in the closing months of the Bush administration, the other was in the opening months of the Obama administration: “The Janesville plant stopped production of SUVs in 2008 and was idled in 2009 after it completed production of medium-duty trucks.”

The plants are on “standby,” and some would dispute whether that means the factory is “lost.” But the bottom line is that people aren’t working there (other than whatever skeleton crew is sweeping the floors and maintaining the facility), they aren’t collecting pay, and they are “locked up and empty”: “Since they were shut down in 2009, both the Janesville and Tennessee plants have been on standby status, meaning they were not producing vehicles, but they were not completely shut down.”

Some lefties are jumping up and down and saying, “But Romney and Ryan opposed the GM bailout!” Yes, but that’s not a fact at issue. Ryan doesn’t claim that he and Romney would have, or even get into the bailout.

That section is beautifully constructed because it brings the listener to many conclusions implied but not stated: That the bailout overpromised and underdelivered, that Obama makes promises he can’t keep, and that the government is not to be relied upon to “support you.” The issue is less the GM bailout than the lack of genuine economic recovery. In the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story quoted above:

Auto industry observer David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research, said it would be premature to say the Janesville plant will never reopen.

“If we get back to any kind of a reasonable market, with 15- or 16 million sales, then I think that’s going to require Janesville as well,” he said.

But the economy is recovering more slowly than people anticipated. “That’s really the key factor,” Cole said. “You’re going to see the company be exceedingly cautious on overcapacity. And they obviously didn’t need a commitment for Janesville to get the UAW’s support.”

The problem for the Janesville plant isn’t the GM bailout. The problem is the national economy — the same problem that is preeminent in the minds of most voters this election.

And that’s the biggest problem for the Obama campaign with this entire debate and all of their arguments about precisely when the GM plant stopped making cars. Most voters will tune out the back-and-forth charges until the bottom line: “The plant in Janesville is still closed.”

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