I was thrilled and inspired by President-Elect Obama’s choice of Senator Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, a subject I blogged about on Global Grind in the face of stiff opposition from some quarters. I felt if Obama was to reach across the political divides in our country to get the best talent at this crucial time in our history he needed to start with his own party – and he did that.
I recommend that President-Elect Obama take another step to reach across party lines as he did with his choice of Robert Gates for Secretary of Defense. Specifically, I respectfully suggest that he consider hiring Mitt Romney to oversee the necessary bailout and restructuring of the auto industry.
Although he is receiving urgings from many different quarters about the auto industry crisis, this important decision is to be made solely by the President-Elect. I have faith that President-Elect Obama will ultimately make the right decision concerning this matter.
The auto industry and its related suppliers and dealers employ millions of Americans. It remains at the heart of our manufacturing and industrial base. It operates in states and localities where unemployment, education and poverty need urgent attention.
Romney is a son of Michigan, in fact the son of a Michigan governor. The US auto industry is literally in his blood. Before going into politics, he was a hugely successful private equity entrepreneur. Say what you will about private equity these days – their business is turning around troubled companies and Romney was a leader in that field. However, if private equity could do the job without government’s “patient money” – then private equity owned Chrysler would not be standing in line along with GM and Ford in the bread lines. This is where Romney’s considerable government experience comes into play. Government money and oversight needs government and business experience. No one else at the senior levels of American politics is better prepared to take on the challenge than Romney.
Has Romney actually expressed any interest in all of this? Here is a recent quote: “It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the auto makers should come-up with a win-win proposition. I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research, on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like – that will ultimately benefit the automotive industry, along with many others.”
Then there is the question of what should be done with government oversight and taxpayers’ hard-earned money going into an industry that has failed itself for decades. The natural urge of hard nosed businessmen would be to cut costs, and therefore jobs. I disagree. I’m with Michael Moore, another son of Michigan, on his recommendations: instead of cutting jobs and manufacturing capacity, the government should demand that the capacity and jobs be reallocated to technologically superior forms of transport, including mass transit so badly needed if we’re to cut our reliance on foreign oil. The government should insist on this, the way FDR mobilized industry for the war effort and got us out of the last depression, and Mitt Romney should be put in charge of executing against this mandate.
I’m sure few of you expect to see Michael Moore and Mitt Romney working together in any capacity – but these are extraordinary times, and an extraordinary President-Elect. He can and should reach across the extremes of the political divide and take the best ideas and the best talent and put them to work, now.
Russell Simmons/ Editor-in-Chief of Global Grind