Maybe Obama’s tough line on Detroit won’t soften

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I spent a reasonably pleasant half hour earlier today taping this week’s edition of On the Line, “The International Public Affairs Talk Show,” which will air starting tomorrow night on your local Voice of America station. (What, you don’t have a local Voice of America station? Try online.) The subject matter was the Chrysler/GM takeover/bailout/bankruptcy/whatever, and the other guests were GWU economist Michael Moore and Slate stalwart Mickey Kaus.

Anyway, we all spent some time wondering aloud about whether the Obama administration’s approach over the next couple of months really will follow the let-’em-go-bankrupt-if-that’s-what-it-takes line that the President rolled out on Monday or will let the whole thing slide into a politicized mess because no way are Democrats gonna be willing to stick it to the United Auto Workers (the David Brooks thesis, now taken up also by Holman Jenkins). I think it’s fair to say that all three of us came to the bold conclusion that we really don’t know what’s going to happen and we’ll have to wait and see. A bunch of foxes, I’d say.

But Kaus made an important (obvious, but important) observation, something along the lines of, “Viewers outside the U.S. need to know that the auto industry really isn’t very popular here.” This is of course true, and it could mean that Brooks is living in the past when he writes:

Over the next few months, the White House will be subject to a gigantic lobbying barrage. The Midwestern delegations, swing states all, will pull out all the stops to prevent plant foreclosures. Unions will be furious if the Obama-run company rips up the union contract. Is the White House ready for the headline “Obama to Middle America: Drop Dead”? It would take a party with a political death wish to see this through.

This seems like a pretty unlikely issue for the Midwestern states to swing toward the Republicans on—given that Republicans have generally been advocating an even tougher line with Detroit than Obama is taking. And Michigan and Ohio aren’t really Middle America anymore, excepting (sort of) in the geographical sense. Most of the U.S. electorate no longer identifies with them at all.

Which could mean that if the Obama administration is going to muck up its auto takeover/bailout/bankruptcy/whatever with politics, it may be that they’re more likely to be environmental politics than Midwestern/union politics.