It is no secret that political candidates are capable of doing awful things when they are reach the desperate final days of an election campaign.
But trying to scare American workers into believing that a government initiative that saved their industry was some sort of secret scheme to shutter major plants and offshore jobs is more than just creepy. It’s economic fear-mongering of a sort that is destructive to the spirit of communities and to the very future of the republic as an industrial force.
George Romney, who led the remarkable American Motors Company project that would eventually produce the Jeep, never in a political career that saw him win election as governor of Michigan and seek the Republican nomination for president would have engaged in such calumny.
But George Romney’s ne’re-do-well son, a very different sort of businessman who devoted his career to taking apart American companies and offshoring jobs, is trying to resurrect his presidential candidacy with a big lie.
And the lie is about Jeeps.
Jeeps are made in Toledo, Ohio, where the iconic American vehicle has been produced since 1941, and Romney needs to win Toledo and the rest of northwest Ohio if he is to stand a chance of winning the battleground state that is key to the presidency.
Last week, Romney went to the region and shocked voters by suggesting that: “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.”
The story, an October 22 report by Bloomberg News, which specifically stated that: “Chrysler currently builds all Jeep SUV models at plants in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. [Fiat/Chrysler executive Mike] Manley referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.”
Yet, Romney spoke of the company that manufactures Jeeps “moving all production to China.
The statement stirred fundamental fears in a regional that has been battered by plant closings. So much so that Jeep’s parent company, Chrysler, rushed to clarify that Romney was completely, totally, incredibly wrong. “Let’s set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China,” announced Chrysler.
Company spokesman Gaulberto Ranieri said that Romney had remade the facts so aggressively that: “It is a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats.”
What was Romney’s response to being caught in a lie.
He lied bigger.
The Romney campaign is now airing an ad in Ohio that claims President Obama, with the auto bailout that saved domestic vehicle production, “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.”
The ad concludes that Romney—whose Bain Capital enterprise identified as “a pioneer of outsourcing”—“will fight for every American job.”
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the nation’s top experts on political advertising reviewed the ad and dismissed it as “inferentially false.”
“They are inviting a false inference,” Hall said of the Romney campaign’s attempt to suggest that Obama had engineered a change in Jeep’s status that would see the Toledo plant shuttered and its more than 3,500 workers idled.
The Washington Post “Fact Checker” site reviewed Romney’s ad and declared: “the overall message of the ad is clearly misleading—especially since it appears to have been designed to piggyback off of Romney’s gross misstatement that Chrysler was moving Ohio factory jobs to China.”
The pushback from Obama’s backers and his campaign has been aggressive.
Former President Bill Clinton flew to Ohio and decried Romney’s claim as “the biggest load of bull in the world.”
Vice President Joe Biden said: “I have never seen anything like that. It’s an absolutely, patently false assertion. It’s such an outrageous assertion that, one of the few times in my memory, a major American corporation, Chrysler, has felt obliged to go public and say, there is no truth.”
An Obama campaign ad announced that “now, after Romney’s false claim of Jeep outsourcing to China, Chrysler itself has refuted Romney’s lie.”
What was Romney’s response.
Up the ad buy.
Expand the big lie so that it is now enormous.
The deception has become such a serious issue that, on Tuesday, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne felt compelled to clarify what is becoming an international controversy.
“Chrysler Group’s production plans for the Jeep brand have become the focus of public debate. I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China,” wrote Marchionne, who added:
North American production is critical to achieving our goal of selling 800,000 Jeep vehicles by 2014. In fact, U.S. production of our Jeep models has nearly tripled (it is expected to be up 185 percent) since 2009 in order to keep up with global demand…
With the increase in demand for our vehicles, especially Jeep branded vehicles, we have added more than 11,200 U.S. jobs since 2009. Plants producing Jeep branded vehicles alone have seen the number of people invested in the success of the Jeep brand grow to more than 9,300 hourly jobs from 4,700. This will increase by an additional 1,100 as the Liberty successor, which will be produced in Toledo, is introduced for global distribution in the second quarter of 2013.
There was nothing unambiguous about that statement. Yet Marchionne continued: “Jeep is one of our truly global brands with uniquely American roots. This will never change. So much so that we committed that the iconic Wrangler nameplate, currently produced in our Toledo, Ohio, plant, will never see full production outside the United States.”
“Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand,” confirmed Marchionne. “It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.”
That’s a rare commitment by a manufacturer—far more clear and unequivocal than the commitment Bain Capital made to the companies it bought up, tore apart and outsourced.
Yet, Mitt Romney’s campaign is still running the ad.
That’s made United Auto Workers union president Bob King furious:
It is especially hypocritical of Mr. Romney’s statements and new ad is Bain Capital’s closing of profitable U.S. facilities and shifting work to China to make even higher profits like what is happening today in closing a profitable Sensata plant in Freeport, IL, to move the work to China. Romney says in the ad that he will fight for every American job, so why isn’t he fighting for the American jobs at Sensata? And why isn’t he intervening with his own Bain Capital to keep these jobs in the U.S. rather than outsourcing them to China? We just wish that Mr. Romney was as committed to investing in the U.S. as Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is.
Americans will remember that President Obama stood behind American working families and American communities in rescuing the U.S. auto industry and that Mr. Romney opposed the rescue and now attacks Chrysler with misinformation. In putting out this misinformation, Romney is recklessly undermining Chrysler’s reputation and threatening good American jobs.
Imagine if Mitt Romney were to be elected president of the United States.
Imagine if he had to go into negotiations with Marchionne, or another CEO of another industrial giant, about protecting US jobs. Or expanding US manufacturing.
Would the executive trust Romney?
Or would the executive remember Romney as the politician who lied and then lied bigger in order to get what he wanted?
That’s a question that American voters who want their country to have a future as a country that makes cars and trucks and Jeeps would be wise to ponder as November 6 approaches.
For more on Mitt “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” Romney’s auto industry problems, check out John Nichols on “Obama Outsources Romney.”