David Sanger in the New York Times says it well. And please note that he writes for the New York Times, an organisation that is rarely accused of being too far to the right.
When President-elect Barack Obama talked on Sunday about realigning the American automobile industry he was quick to offer a caution, lest he sound more like the incoming leader of France, or perhaps Japan.
“We don’t want government to run companies,” Mr. Obama told Tom Brokaw on “Meet the Press.” “Generally, government historically hasn’t done that very well.”
But what Mr. Obama went on to describe was a long-term bailout that would be conditioned on federal oversight. It could mean that the government would mandate, or at least heavily influence, what kind of cars companies make, what mileage and environmental standards they must meet and what large investments they are permitted to make — to recreate an industry that Mr. Obama said “actually works, that actually functions.”
It all sounds perilously close to a word that no one in Mr. Obama’s camp wants to be caught uttering: nationalization.
Not since Harry Truman seized America’s steel mills in 1952 rather than allow a strike to imperil the conduct of the Korean War has Washington toyed with nationalization, or its functional equivalent, on this kind of scale. Mr. Obama may be thinking what Mr. Truman told his staff: “The president has the power to keep the country from going to hell.” (The Supreme Court thought differently and forced Mr. Truman to relinquish control.)
The fact that there is so little protest in the air now — certainly less than Mr. Truman heard — reflects the desperation of the moment. But it is a strategy fraught with risks.