The annual National Auto Dealer Association convention was recently held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. This year’s conference was indicative of the vigorous rebound of the industry as a whole. Attendance was brisk and the exposition hall was packed full of vendors. Spirits were upbeat and optimism abounded.
Ex President George W. Bush was the last to present and he packed the hall. The President began with a 25 minute presentation followed by Q&A with outgoing NADA Chairman Stephen Wade asking the questions. The President showed his human side with a liberal mix of applause lines and humor. He cracked up the room on numerous occasions with spontaneous “off the cuff” remarks. He devoted some time to trying to sell his book, “Decision Points,” which is highly recommend. But every time Bush mentioned “Decisions Points” he added with a wry expression and a twinkle in his eye, “We still have plenty of inventory.” The line became funnier every time he said it. “Did I mention, we still have plenty of inventory?”
Despite the fact that the room was primarily Republican, based on informal polling, there was no booing or hissing for the fact that President Bush authorized the advance of a bridge loan of $17.4 million from TARP funds to GM and Chrysler in December of 2008 after having been turned down for a bailout package by Congress. TARP and the auto “bridge loan” this was the second topic Bush addressed after first spending some time on his own battles with alcohol.
So given the audience, it made perfect sense for him to dwell on his part of the auto industry rescue. In fact, it might as well be termed the rescue of the North American industrial base, since that is what was at stake. Bush spoke glowingly of the advice and support of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. He cited them as perfect examples of when a leader needs to surround himself with people who know about that which the leader doesn’t.
Speaking of the massive government support by his administration during the economic collapse of late 2008 Bush says, “In a normal environment, the free market would render its judgment and they could fail. I would have been happy to let them do so. As unfair as it was to use the American people’s money to prevent a collapse for which they weren’t responsible, it would have been even more unfair to do nothing and leave them to suffer the consequences. The consequences of inaction would have been catastrophic.”
Regarding the economic crisis he said, “If we’re really looking at another Great Depression, you can be damn sure I’m going to be Roosevelt, not Hoover. Wall Street got drunk, and we got the hangover.”
In his book, Bush says he opposed the Carter/Reagan bailout of Chrysler. “The economy was extremely fragile, and my economic advisors had warned me that the immediate bankruptcy of the Big Three would cost more than a million jobs, decrease tax revenues by $150 million, and set back the country’s GDP by hundreds of billions of dollars.”
President Bush refrained from getting involved in the current politics other than to say he understands the immense pressures of the job and that it would be counter productive for him to weigh in. Despite the occasional malapropism, he conducts himself with class and grace with a large dose of Texas one-liner humor. While history may judge him harshly on some issues it seems clear that the decisive action he authorized saved the economy, and in particular the auto industry, from a catastrophic meltdown.