Nothing like it has ever happened. The President of the United States, the elected representative of the people, has just told the head of General Motors — a company that’s spent more years at #1 on the Fortune 500 list than anyone else — “You’re fired!”
I simply can’t believe it. This stunning, unprecedented action has left me speechless for the past two days. I keep saying, “Did Obama really fire the chairman of General Motors? The wealthiest and most powerful corporation of the 20th century? Can he do that? Really? Well, damn! What else can he do?!”
This bold move has sent the heads of corporate America spinning and spewing pea soup. Obama has issued this edict: The government of, by, and for the people is in charge here, not big business. John McCain got it. On the floor of the Senate he asked, “What does this signal send to other corporations and financial institutions about whether the federal government will fire them as well?” Senator Bob Corker said it “should send a chill through all Americans who believe in free enterprise.” The stock market plunged as the masters of the universe asked themselves, “Am I next?” And they whispered to each other, “What are we going to do about this Obama?”
Not much, fellows. He has the massive will of the American people behind him — and he has been granted permission by us to do what he sees fit. If you liked this week’s all-net 3-pointer, stay tuned.
I write this letter to you in memory of the hundreds of thousands of workers over the past 25+ years who have been tossed into the trash heap by General Motors. Many saw their lives ruined for good. They turned to alcohol or drugs, their marriages fell apart, some took their own lives. Most moved on, moved out, moved over, moved away. They ended up working two jobs for half the pay they were getting at GM. And they cursed the CEO of GM for bringing ruin to their lives.
Not one of them ever thought that one day they would witness the CEO receive the same treatment. Of course Chairman Wagoner will not have to sign up for food stamps or be evicted from his home or tell his kids they’ll be going to the community college, not the university. Instead, he will get a $23 million golden parachute. But the slip in his hands is still pink, just like the hundreds of thousands that others received — except his was issued by us, via the Obama-man. Here’s the door, buster. See ya. Don’t wanna be ya.
I began my day today in Washington, D.C. I went to the U.S. Senate and got into their Finance Committee’s hearing on the Wall Street bailout. The overseers wanted to know how the banks spent the money. And many of these banks won’t tell them. They’ve taken trillions and nobody knows where the money went. It certainly didn’t go to create jobs, relieve mortgage holders, or free up loans that people need. It was so shocking to listen to this, I had to leave before it was over. But it gave me an idea for the movie I was shooting.
Later, I stopped by the National Archives to stand in line to see the original copy of our Constitution. I thought about how twenty years ago this month I was just down the street finishing my first film, a personal plea to warn the nation about GM and the deadly economy it ruled. On that March day in 1989 I was broke, having collected the last of my unemployment checks, relying on help from my friends (Bob and Siri would take me out to dinner and always pick up the check, the assistant manager at the movie theater would sneak me in so I could watch an occasional movie, Laurie and Jack bought an old Steenbeck (editing) machine for me, John Richard would slip me an unused plane ticket so I could go home for Christmas, Rod would do anything for me and drive to Flint whenever I needed something for the film). My late mother (she would’ve turned 88 tomorrow if she were still with us) and my GM autoworker dad told me in the kitchen they wanted to help and handed me a check for an astounding thousand dollars. I didn’t know they even had a thousand dollars. I refused it, they insisted I take it — “No!” — and then, in that parental voice, told me I was to cash it so I could finish my movie. I did. And I did.
So on that March day in 1989, as I was driving down Pennsylvania Avenue, my 9-year-old car just died. I coasted over to the curb, put my head down on the steering wheel and started to cry. I had no money to take it in to be repaired, and I certainly had nothing to pay the tow truck driver. So I got out, screwed the license plates off so I wouldn’t be fined, turned my back and just left it there for good. I looked over at the building next to me. It said “National Archives.” What better place to donate my dead car, I thought, as I walked the rest of the way home.
Though it wasn’t easy for me, I still never had to suffer what so many of my friends and neighbors went through, thanks to General Motors and an economic system rigged against them. I wonder what they must have all thought when they woke up this Monday morning to read in the Detroit News or the Detroit Free Press the headlines that Obama had fired the CEO of GM. Oh — wait a minute. They couldn’t read that. There was no Free Press or News. Monday was the day that both papers ended home delivery. It was cancelled (as it will be for four days every week) because the daily newspapers, like General Motors, like Detroit, are broke.
I await the President’s next superhero move.
P.S. Please know that it has not been lost on any of us from the Rust Belt how our corporate bigwigs were treated (remember, the auto companies wanted a loan, not a handout) compared to how the titans of Wall Street got trillions of free cash, lunch at the White House and a photo op with the Prez. Trust me, we get it. And, if there is a God in heaven, the thieves of Wall Street will soon pay. Also… the sight of our president having to promise that he would back every GM warranty and give consumers a bonus if they trade in their old Grand Am for a hybrid, was alternately sad, hilarious, and just plain weird. This is what it’s come to: the Commander in Chief of the Free World is now Mr. Goodwrench. Jeesh.