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Head Strong: Boycotting Chrysler and GM is a bad road

'I won't buy a socialist car, which means I won't be buying a GM or Chrysler car for as long as the U.S. government owns huge blocks of the companies," wrote talk radio host Hugh Hewitt in the June 1 issue of the Washington Examiner.

'I won't buy a socialist car, which means I won't be buying a GM or Chrysler car for as long as the U.S. government owns huge blocks of the companies," wrote talk radio host Hugh Hewitt in the June 1 issue of the Washington Examiner.

"Buy Ford. Buy Toyota. Buy anything that isn't owned and operated by the federal government," he continued. In a separate blog posting he added, "Every dollar spent with GM is a dollar spent against free enterprise."

And so were sown the seeds for a burgeoning boycott of U.S. auto manufacturers receiving aid from the federal government - Rasmussen reports that 17 percent of Americans are supportive. Some big names have thrown their weight behind the notion, including Rush Limbaugh, who opined, "Nobody wants to support an Obama company."

These sentiments overlook several factors, including the fact that Detroit got into this trouble in the context of free enterprise. The intervention began in December, when President George W. Bush - hardly the socialist - signed a $17 billion auto bailout. The debate surrounding it continued until GM declared bankruptcy this month. And the political reality is that Democrats won the debate because they were victorious in November.

Second, carried to its logical conclusion, a successful boycott of auto manufacturers who receive support from the federal government would lead to their demise, ensuring that American taxpayers are not reimbursed for the subsidies.

Third, common sense dictates that the fastest way to return GM to private hands is for the company to sell lots of cars, retire its obligation, and have the federal government cease and desist from its involvement. If we really want the government out of the car business, we had better hope GM succeeds, instead of deliberately contributing to its failure.

It's the same with the war in Iraq. If we want the United States out of Iraq, we want the U.S.-backed Iraqi government to succeed. The longer we have to prop up that government, the longer U.S. troops have to stay. Likewise, the longer we have to support GM, the longer the federal government will be bogged down in an automotive quagmire.

But perhaps that does not matter to the Obama critics who sometimes seem willing - even eager - to have the country continue its tailspin if it means the 44th president will be tagged with the blame.

The sooner some Obama critics put America ahead of ideology, the better off we will all be. In the end, that's what this is really about. For some, the election never ended. They continue to believe the Internet-lore version of the man elected president. And the boycott movement is the latest incarnation of the wild-eyed notion that President Obama was a radical Manchurian candidate with a hidden Muslim background and a socialist agenda. It's the same vitriol that welcomed Limbaugh's desire for Obama's policies to fail.

Don't misunderstand. None of this suggests that we should ever have begun the federal bailout of Detroit. I happen to think it was the wrong policy to pursue. But that is not the issue now. The decision has been made. The funds have been delivered. Today, the question is how best to ensure success, not to facilitate the failure of an American industry.

There are plenty of valid reasons to buy a Ford, or Toyota, or any other vehicle out there, not the least of which is the notion that another company makes better cars. Unsure about the viability of GM service two years from now? Buy another brand. Worried about General Motors' instability? By all means, go elsewhere. But to suggest boycotting an American product simply because America owns that product is shortsighted and wrong. It's denting the fender to spite the car.

In 1982, I bought a Chrysler convertible as a means of supporting the iconic American carmaker during a difficult time in its history. On the verge of bankruptcy, the company had secured a $1.5 billion loan guarantee from the federal government in 1979. My decision was fueled by a desire to support a Chrysler resurgence - as well as fellow Lehigh University alumnus Lee Iacocca, the great American businessman then leading the company.

By 1982, Chrysler had repaid its loans - seven years before they were due - and the government made more than $330 million when the deal was closed. "We at Chrysler borrow money the old-fashioned way," Iacocca would say later. "We pay it back."

Thirty years later, General Motors is trying to exit a similar road to perdition. And unfortunately, goodwill is in short supply.