Paul Ryan is trying to convince voters in Michigan and other manufacturing states that he’s committed to the domestic auto industry.
Joe Biden, as he prepares to debate Ryan in Thursday night’s vice presidential debate, should take note. Because what Ryan is saying about that “commitment” stands in stark contrast with a record of bad votes, neglect of fundamental issues and disregard for the pleas by autoworkers that Ryan represent them—as opposed to his campaign donors on Wall Street.
On Monday night in Michigan, Ryan promised voters that he and Mitt Romney will fight for to make sure that America keeps making cars and trucks.
“Trust me. I come from Detroit West,” the Republican nominee for vice president said in Rochester, Michigan. “We know we need a healthy auto sector.”
That was a reference to southeastern Wisconsin, the region across Lake Michigan, that Ryan represents in Congress. For a century, communities in Ryan’s 1st congressional district were “auto towns,” like Detroit and Flint and Pontiac in Michigan.
What Ryan said about “Detroit West” and his commitment to maintaining a muscular auto industry sounded great.
“Know this: We want the strongest auto sector. We want American manufacturing to have a comeback,” he declared. “And the way we do that is we stop sending all our decisions to Washington in a government-driven economy.”
But a “government-driven economy” didn’t harm the auto industry. It helped.
When the industry was tanking, President Obama convinced Congress to support an auto bailout that, by most accounts, renewed General Motors and Chrysler, keeping factories going and saving hundreds of thousands of jobs.
It was Mitt Romney who wanted to “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
And what of Ryan?
He voted for “free-trade” agreements—particularly the extension of permanent “Most-Favored Nation” trading status to China—that were devastating for the auto industry in what he refers to as “Detroit West.” He opposed moves to mitigate against the damage, including the Currency Reform and Fair Trade Act. He rejected industrial policies and planning initiatives that might have helped “Detroit West.”
And “Detroit West” started shutting down.
On Ryan’s watch, the Delphi Automotive Systems plant in Oak Creek, which once employed more than 4,000 workers, closed as much of the work it once did moved to Mexico and China.
On Ryan’s watch, the Janesville General Motors plant, which once employed more than 7,000 workers, was shuttered.
On Ryan’s watch, the Kenosha Chrysler plant, which employed 16,000 workers when it was a crown jewel of George Romney’s old American Motors Company, ended production.
When Paul Ryan was elected to Congress, there really was a “Detroit West” in Wisconsin. His votes and his policies were not entirely responsible for the collapse of the auto industry in southeastern Wisconsin.
But Ryan did reject the pleas of his constituents—members of UAW Local 438 in Oak Creek, UAW Local 95 in Janesville, UAW Local 72 in Kenosha—to side with them and against the dictates of the speculators and the outsourcing pioneers on issues of trade and industrial policy.
There are empty factory buildings and vacant lots across southeastern Wisconsin that can testify to what happens when Washington insiders like Ryan side with Wall Street, rather than Main Street.
That’s something voters in states that still have significant auto production should keep in mind as Ryan promises to do for them what he did for “Detroit West.” And it’s something Joe Biden ought to be prepared to discuss when he meets up with Ryan in a vice presidential debate that can and should focus on the jobs and manufacturing issues that were so missing from the first presidential debate.
For more on the GOP’s support of free trade at the expense of US jobs, check out John Nichols on Romney and NAFTA.
And join Nation writers and readers for live commentary and fact-checking during the vice presidential debate tomorrow night. RSVP here.