When asked to address an audience of automotive professionals and those who “work in the business,” I pondered for a long while on what to say. The obvious elephant in the living room isn’t about the bailout or no bailout or loans or no loans, it is about life on Main Street, USA.
The whole deal about stimulus packages and bailouts, loans and relief in general, has left the general public baffled. As I write for Politico.com (selected, I am told, because I am an “outsider,” whatever that means), I constantly remind my largely Washington-based co-writers that Main Street is a different animal.
We live with the consequences of big decisions out of the big places, mainly on the East Coast. We keep trying, with limited success, to energize people to step up to the plate and get their noses out of shopping for the next big screen TV and get politically and civically active. Then we are told, of course, that shopping is essential if we are to get out of this recession or near depression.
(At least we are attaching “near” for now.)
Those in the automotive field face many challenges: rising costs, workforce development (assuming we will still need them) and, of course, the lack of sales, an impact that is immediately felt across our local communities. But we did learn a few things out of the financial collapse of October: (1) we are interdependent within the global world; (2) the experts are, well … not such experts after all, as noted when a collective jaw dropped nationally when Greenspan admitted not knowing what had happened; and (3) it was not quite so easy to dismiss government as we had thought. We learned that indeed government plays an important role … yet we are unsure at the moment exactly what role.
So, what does this mean for those who toil in some aspect of the auto industry? I believe that we have had a wake-up call. We must first and foremost revive the industry – however it is deemed best to do that. The tide is turning against the word “bailout” and the screaming headline in Business Week tells us that TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Fund) has failed.
We must become more aware of what is going on around us. Change will continue to be unpredictable, and we must grow more comfortable with those variables. We are interrelated across the globe; as the Utah governor observed at a recent conference, expertise is not the exclusive province of “higher ups.” Many solutions to our thorniest problems are rising from the “bottom” – both from government and industry?– and governance will require a more active participation from us all. It will require a healthy dose of realism.
Grover Norquist, the famed anti-government guru, said we should shrink government to a size that we can drain it out of the bathtub – a quip heard round the world that was at best cute and at worst asinine. We are beyond cute and asinine and should plant our feet in creating a real future for our real children and grandchildren. We could do too little government, or too much. It is truly up to us.
The reality is that we must build toward sustainable local communities – the basic building blocks of our government. It all happens on Main Street. And the reality is that they cannot do it alone. It will take a new kind of partnership among our local communities, in partnership with the state and federal governments. We aren’t there yet.
Someone once said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. The world has changed – get over it. End of story. The new story is a better one. It is about the American will, the energy and resilience we are supposedly known for, and the ability to face cold, hard facts – including sometimes looking in a mirror for our own warts and not just of those we elect or CEOs who are the favorite target these days.
We must revive a great industry and morph it into what it needs to be to serve our Main Streets best. Only then will our country have recovered and we can erase bailout, loan, unfair bonuses, foreclosure and the general malaise that we all feel from our collective dictionary.