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Let Rahm off the hook on that UAW expletive

I suspect I am slightly more of a gut pro-labor guy than is Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff. But I think the media attention to Emanuel’s use of his favorite expletive with reference to the United Auto Workers union is an unfair distraction -- and ignores the fact that he uses that word promiscuously about almost everyone.

The revelation comes in the new book, "Overhaul," by Steve Rattner, the New York investment banker who was a chief architect of the auto bailout. I'm looking forward to reading it. Emanuel's little outburst is a tiny piece of a much larger narrative.

The media focus on this tidbit is frustrating for at least three reasons. First, with a few honorable exceptions, opponents of the auto bailout are doing everything they can to evade the simple fact that it worked far better than any of them predicted. They'll do almost anything to keep the focus off this central storyline. This is just another instance of the politics of distraction.

Second, I happen to be one of an extremely small number of commentators who thought the bailout was a good idea from the beginning. Letting GM and Chrysler fail, I thought, would be hugely damaging and irreversible. There is a place for government to try to save parts of our manufacturing sector during this terrifyingly comprehensive economic downturn. I always thought there was a way the government could do this right, and in this case, that's what it's done.

Third, because of my interest, I followed the bailout very closely, and Emanuel was one of its leading supporters. It doesn't surprise me in the least that during difficult negotiations, he swore at the UAW. I suspect he swore at a lot of other people, too. That's why the UAW president, Bob King, responded to the story about Emanuel’s expletive-deleted moment by saying: "The hard work of this president, Rahm Emanuel and the administration literally saved the auto industry."

Incidentally, Emanuel is well-known as a source to many columnists, and, yes, I'm one of them. But I don’t write this out of any desire to cultivate him as a source. I am quite confident I'll keep hearing from him, if only when he wants to throw his favorite expletive at me when I’ve written something he doesn't like. It's happened.

Raymond Chandler, the great American mystery writer, offered the world a collection of short stories called Trouble Is My Business. That could well be the title of some future biography of Rahm Emanuel. I'm sure he will get into trouble again for his mouth, and he may well deserve the grief he gets when it happens. But I don’t think he deserves the hit this time.

By E.J. Dionne  | September 3, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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EJ great advice . We all have some one close a friend or an uncle whom we love , and they would throw their favorite expletive in any conversation . It is an indication of their emotions and they never mean any thing bad . Mr. Rahm Emanuel former Congress man and now Chief of Staff to the President is a committed public servant , a friend of the labor unions , would never be a party to any thing , not for the benefit of labors' cause and relations . I remember Rahm Emanuel 's years as a congressman , he always used to be at the Jefferson Park Blue Line train Station in Chicago , to shake hands with commuters before and after every election .

Posted by: dmfarooq | September 3, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

We won't know if the bailout was a success or not until they have to roll over the post-reorg debt.

I suspect no one will lend to them at senior secured rates after what happened, and they will either have to compete with a higher cost of capital, or the government will have to backstop their debt.

You can't just roll over bondholders like that and expect them to allow themselves to be put in that position again without compensation.

Posted by: sold2u | September 3, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

If Andy Card would have uttered this phrase, you would have destroyed him.

I think the real story is the fact that GM is being dubbed this big success when in reality we've just patched them up until the Health Care bills come due to the tune of approx. $17B according to the WaPo.

You must be nuts to buys shares in GM when it goes public....certifiably crazy.

Posted by: d-35 | September 3, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

For once, the expletive was precisely aimed. After the GMAC bailout, which has exactly nothing to do with GM, it was highly appropriate. Don't quote Chandler, he understood black, white and grey in a way that you never will.

Posted by: Gooddogs | September 3, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Dionne, you obviously were not a Chrysler or GM bondholder. The bailout didn't work out so well for them.

Posted by: lopence | September 4, 2010 1:58 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Dionne, I assume you "approved" of the bailout because the bondholders took it in the shorts while the unions were "saved." Does anyone think that if GM had been allowed to go through the normal bankruptcy process, that those assets would not be making cars? The normal bankruptcy process, however, would have invalidated the union contracts. Please admit the single purpose of the government takeover of GM was to save the unions!

Posted by: wvara | September 4, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

E.J. Dionne says:
"I suspect I am slightly more of a gut pro-labor guy than is Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff."

That's why you support the theft of billions from the bond holders that were given to the unions.

This was one of the most egregious abuses of power for purely political benefit that I have ever seen.

Posted by: spamsux1 | September 4, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

E.J. says the government investment in Chrysler and GM saved the auto industry. It saved the UAW. If those car companies had been allowed to go through a normal chapter 11 reorganization (as several major airlines, have done, for instance) they would have emerged with less debt and without a taxpayer bailout to compete again against Ford and the several foreign-owned US car manufacturers on even terms. But the UAW would have taken a hit, and Obama couldn't have that.

Now, EJ, please stop engaging in the journalism of distraction.

Posted by: Roytex | September 4, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

We were willing to deamonize every other manufacturing company and chase them out of this country.Thanks to enviro attorneys.Why stop now or then

Posted by: jmounday | September 4, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

to all,

the REAL PROBLEM with the "car business" is that the federal government cannot seem to stay OUT of it. - absent UNelected bureaucrats & Congress trying to regulate the industry, there would have been NO crisis. = the so-called "CAFE Standards" is a classic case in point: it forces carmakers to build vehicles that consumers do NOT want to buy.

the federal government isn't competent to operate anything more complicated than a hotdog stand efficiently & AT A PROFIT.- the USPS is the classic illustration of that TRUTH.

what should be done is start SHUTTING DOWN every possible "alphabet soup named" federal agency, that performs functions that could be better performed at the city/county/state level OR by private industry.

as President Ronald Reagan used to say, "Government isn't the answer to problems. it IS the problem."

just my opinion.

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: texasnative46 | September 4, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

E.J there are too many people in bed with this incompetent Administration...and all of you arent worth whatever you are being paid to cheerlead for Obama. He has no idea of what he is doing and these bailouts and that lousy stimulus are costing Americans alot of money and jobs in order to provide him some on the job training..... He can give brilliant oratory but he cannot govern..

Posted by: JUNGLEJIM123 | September 4, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Sir: I had a small investment in GM in bonds. I lost everything. I am not a rich reprobate. My money was taken from me at the point of a gun by a government which said "stand and deliver" and delivered wholesale to a gang of rich labor unions, where a guy on the assembly line makes far more than me and has benefits.

They took my money sir. And you giggle and revel? Rahm was right at what he said, but he, like you was part of the mobster thieves which stole what little I had. I don't think it funny.

Posted by: wjc1va | September 4, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Rahm's statement (and, the "F" word doesn't bother me) just further fuels the anti-union environment that has enveloped this country during this administration...thanks President Obama. Don't count on our votes in 2012.

Posted by: lacy41 | September 4, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

More drivel from Dionne. The jury is still out on GM and most economists believe that the nation would have been better served by traditional bankruptcy proceedings which would have enabled GM to "reset" their union contracts and pension agreements. As it stands Obama gave the unions and GM a tax subsidized reprieve to get their act together. If the 41k Volt is an example of their work they obviously will be back with their hands out in a year or so.

Posted by: jkk1943 | September 5, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Rahm Emanuel is one major reason why this ex-fundraiser is doing NOTHING for the Democratic Party this year. I did not bust my ass in 2008 to install that vulgar insecure little princess as the deputy president for capitulation and betrayal. To adapt one of Emanuel's most infantile remarks: He should stick a tampon in and shut the hell up.

Posted by: uh_huhh | September 5, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

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