The Democrats have decided to run in 2012 as the bailout party. It is an odd choice — the 2008–09 bailouts were deeply unpopular among the general public, and even their backers were notably conflicted about the precedent being set and the ensuing moral hazard. But Democrats have nonetheless made one of the most abusive episodes in the entire bailout era their economic cornerstone: the government takeover of General Motors.
The GM bailout was always an odd duck: The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was created in order to preserve liquidity in the financial markets by heading off the collapse of key financial institutions that had made catastrophically bad bets on real-estate securities — nothing at all to do with cars, really. GM’s financial arm, today known as Ally Financial, was in trouble, but GM’s fundamental problem was that its products were not profitable enough to support its work-force expenses. A single dominant factor — the United Auto Workers union’s extortionate contracts with GM — prevented the carmaker from either reducing its work-force costs or making its products more efficiently. And its hidebound management didn’t help.