Friendless and clueless in Detroit: The tale of the Motown Mendicants

he Big Three appear to have lost the few friends they had on Capitol Hill. Without a game-changing plan and armed only with Chicken Little warnings of the collapse of the auto industry, they alienated their supporters and soured their bid to get bailout money – at least for now.

    Unlike true mendicants, who have taken a vow of poverty and live by begging, the Motown Mendicants flew back to Detroit on their private jets, the same mode of travel that brought them to Washington.
    The use of private jets irked lawmakers, and right or wrong, became a symbol of all that’s wrong with the leaders of the US auto industry – they are clueless.
    New York Representative Gary Ackerman said, “It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in a high hat and tuxedo.” California Representative Brad Sherman agreed: “I don’t know how I go back to my constituents and say the auto industry has changed if they own private jets which are not only expensive to own, expensive to operate and expensive to fly here, rather than to have flown commercial.” Ackerman and Sherman are Democrats.
    Flying private jets was viewed as an act of hubris – of excessive arrogance. Hubris in ancient Greece, where the concept originated, always leads to a fatal downfall.
    Apparently, auto big wigs are required by their companies to fly private jets for security reasons. That makes sense, in an uptight kind of way. But aren’t they the leaders of their companies? Couldn’t they have made the grand gesture? Symbols are a big part of leadership. What if they had made a dramatic public demonstration of driving to Washington in, say, a Chevrolet Cobalt — to show that this is an exceptional moment in which big changes are needed?
    Democrats gave the Big Three until December 2 to come up with a plan for what they would do with the money. I’m optimistic by nature, but I doubt our friendless, clueless auto industry leaders will come up with the road map to revitalization. If they had that, wouldn’t we have heard it already?

    I thank all the readers who have added their voices to the discussion this week. I am still eager to hear what you’re thinking. The comments you have added are important signs of public attitudes on these major issues. Next week, we will continue discussing the auto industry conundrum, so please keep adding your thoughts day by day!
    But we’re also going to shift our conversation – talking about what we are grateful for, this coming Thanksgiving week. Even in the midst of recession, there’s plenty.

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