When Winston Churchill heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, he was overcome with emotion -- but not the emotion Americans felt. Churchill knew it meant his nation had been saved. He knew the United States would be drawn into the entire war, and that it meant Great Britain would not be conquered after all. “I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful,” he later wrote.
But he also added that he knew there would be many grim days to come, and “many disasters and innumerable cost lay ahead,” and that things would get worse before they got better. The executives of the auto companies have to be feeling very much the same today.
Yes, they are now not going to go out of business and have to declare bankruptcy at the end of this month. Millions of new jobless workers aren’t going to swell the unemployment rolls in the first few months of next year. But unless Chrysler and General Motors can get their acts together, and soon, the $13 billion to $17 billion in new loans authorized today will just delay the inevitable.
That, in fact, is what Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the man Detroit loves to hate has been arguing all along.
Let’s give President George W. Bush credit. Today, for the second time in his presidency, and the first time since his televised address a few days after 9-11, he sounded like a statesman.
What he did today went against his political and ideological beliefs. But he recognized that sometimes the welfare of the nation means a president has to do necessary, if unpleasant things.
What we in Michigan have to realize is that everyone in the automotive universe is going to have hard choices to make as well.
And they are going to have to make them very soon. To quote the president: “Automakers must meet conditions that experts agree are necessary for long-term viability, including putting their retirement plans on a sustainable footing, persuading bond holders to convert their debt into capital that companies need to address immediate financial shortfalls, and making their compensation competitive with foreign automakers who have major operations in the United States.”
This is going to be hard stuff. Whatever happens, many autoworkers are still going to lose their jobs this year.
Others may be working harder for less. Winston Churchill said something else soon after America had gotten in the war that applies to our situation today. “This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.“
Detroit’s automakers got a chance for a new beginning this morning. They face perhaps the toughest three months in their history, as they race to come up with a successful plan by the end of March. There will be a lot of blood, tears, toil and sweat ahead.
But the nation gave them a chance to show what they can do. Today, all Michigan has to hope that they can make the most of it.