[Viewpoint]Testing his cool

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[Viewpoint]Testing his cool

‘Good” does not even begin to describe him. “Refreshing” and “sleek” are just not enough either. American media use adjectives like “perfect,” “flawless” and “prepared,” but I think what describes President-elect Barack Obama best is “cool.” After his election victory, he has maintained a low profile and limits exposure. He said that there should only be one U.S. president at a time, and did not attend the G20 summit meeting in Washington, D.C. last week. He is respectful and considerate of the incumbent, George W. Bush.

In the first appointment decision of his administration, Obama named Rahm Emmanuel to be his chief of staff. The congressman is known for his hard-charging attitude and is considered highly competent. The president-elect seems to have taken into account the fact that Congressional cooperation is essential if he wants to lead America’s change. By including someone who can say “no” to him and is highly capable in his closest circle, Barack Obama has made a fine appointment decision.

The president-elect is also embracing political opponents. He is carefully considering Hillary Clinton, with whom he vied for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, for the position of the secretary of state. He praised Senator John McCain, whom Obama defeated in the presidential election, for his service to the nation and politely asked for his cooperation. He is now busy planning a bipartisan administration that includes both Democrats and Republicans. President-elect Obama acts with the virtues of integration and modesty that President Abraham Lincoln once showed.

However, the compliments stop there. Obama has committed a serious mistake that might overshadow all the praise he has received. He favors saving the United States’ Big Three automakers - GM, Ford and Chrysler - with taxpayer money. The Democratic Party proposed a bill to Congress to allot $25 billion from the $700 billion bailout fund created to alleviate the financial crisis.

The American automakers argue that their collapse would have a catastrophic impact on the real economy, and the autoworkers’ union and management are pressuring Congress. They say if they fail, 3 million jobs would be lost, including 250,000 workers employed directly by the three companies. The consequent decrease in spending and tax revenue would aggravate an already suffering economy, they say. They want the government to save the companies as it rescued financial institutions.

Management and labor share responsibility for the crisis of U.S. automakers. Their hardship is the natural outgrowth of producing cars that will not sell. And they now shamelessly ask for taxpayer dollars to keep them alive.

Obama is in an awkward position since the auto unions traditionally support the Democratic Party and have contributed to his election victory. Also, he cannot ignore the symbolic significance of the automobile industry. Nevertheless, public assistance for them cannot be justified for it is against the principles of the market economy.

The auto industry is not the only sector on the verge of bankruptcy in the United States. The crisis in the industry is also not America’s problem alone. If the U.S. decides to help the Big Three, Europe is likely to follow suit with its own carmakers. As a result, protectionism would spread and the global economic crisis will only worsen.

The right path is to have the companies file for bankruptcy protection according to the law and go through drastic restructuring and merger through a creditor bank, ultimately reinventing the American automobile industry. In order to save a wrecked ship from sinking, the captain has to throw cargo into the sea, starting with the heaviest. This is the rule of jettison. If you try to hang on to everything, you might lose it all.

Disappointment follows praise, and Obama has to decide whom to disappoint first. The Big Three have to be at the top of the list. Even if it is initially painful, it will save America, and the world, in the long run. President-elect Obama is caught in a trap, and the world is watching his choice.

*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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