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September 15, 2008

It’s Not a Bailout! Not At All, It’s Just Rick Wagoner’s Puppy


Rick Wagoner, please, don’t ever go away. Please. You provide so much material for this column, I don’t know what I will do if you ever exit the scene.


I realize that your stewardship of General Motors has not exactly been an unqualified success, although you surely get the Optimist Award for pronouncing yourself “pleased” when you lost $38.7 billion in a single year.


This is a very selfish position for me to take, I realize. If Mr. Wagoner stays in charge of General Motors, the company will probably be out of business before long, or he may cost the taxpayers billions in loan guarantees . . . or worse yet, he may achieve both. I wouldn’t underestimate him.


But I don’t care. He amuses me. I thought I had shortcomings as a CEO. I thought I said strange things. But every time I start questioning myself, I just do a news search for the latest musings of Mr. Wagoner, and I remind myself, “It could be worse. I could be that guy.


Mr. Wagoner’s latest public pronouncement may be the funniest yet – and that’s no small achievement from the man who declared bankruptcy impossible for a company that is on pace to run out of cash reserves by the end of the year. But he did it. Mr. Wagoner has now declared – while in the very act of begging Congress to appropriate money for GM – that, get this, “I am not here today asking for any bailouts.”


Oh. My. God. Black is white. Night is day. Salma Hayek is Ernest Borgnine.


You really need to see the entire quote, at least as reported by Reuters, so here it is:


"I'm not here today asking for any bailouts. We need to approve the ($3.8 billion) appropriation to authorize those loans and to very quickly draft regulation."


Hurry up! Approve the bailout I’m not asking for! Time’s a’wastin’!


OK, I will admit that I do experience some small personal conflict over being such a smart-aleck about this. If GM, Ford and Chrysler (yep, the money would be for them too) go out of business, many jobs will be lost and people will be hurt. That is serious.


But it’s not my job to be serious, and apparently it isn’t Rick Wagoner’s job either. Because the truth is there are legitimate requests he could make of the federal government. He could ask them to repeal their fuel-economy standards, which GM can’t afford to comply with. He could even be so bold as to ask them to pass legislation cancelling their legacy health care agreements with retirees.


I don’t think they would do any of that, and with the exception of repealing the fuel-economy standards, I’m not so sure they should. GM made the dumb business decisions. They’re GM’s problems to deal with.


But at least if Wagoner requested those things, he’d be dealing with reality. As we know from his track record, though, that’s not how Rick rolls. Losing $38.7 billion is pleasing. Running out of cash at a breakneck pace, when no one in their right mind would lend you more, is not putting you at risk of bankruptcy. And asking the federal government to approve loans for you right away is not asking for a bailout.


I’m sorry. I almost feel like I cheated when I wrote this column. Mocking the words of Rick Wagoner is so easy, it isn’t even fair. The only part that isn’t funny is the very real prospect that the taxpayers might soon be asked to put so much money in the hands of a man so completely divorced from any concept of reality.


Oh well. I’ll just choose to think of this boondoggle as a puppy. I’m sure Rick will back me up on that.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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