Death of an Amer­i­can love af­fair

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Cal Thomas

See the U.S.A. in your Chevro­let. Amer­ica is ask­ing you to call. Drive your Chevro­let through the U.S.A. Amer­ica’s the great­est land of all.”

Fifty years ago, those words, set to mu­sic each week on NBC’s “The Di­nah Shore Show,” re­flected an Amer­ica and an au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try that are no more. That time and that in­dus­try were laid to rest last week when Gen­eral Motors filed for bank­ruptcy and the gov­ern­ment ef­fec­tively na­tion­al­ized GM and Chrysler af­ter wast­ing bil­lions of our tax dol­lars on a failed bailout.

De­spite dis­claimers from Pres­i­dent Obama that the gov­ern­ment doesn’t want to be in the car busi­ness, it is hard to see what it has bought with our tax dol­lars other than two of what used to be known as the “Big Three.” Gov­ern­ment by de­fault or determination will choose the types of cars the com­pa­nies it owns will make. Gov­ern­ment will buy a lot of them be­cause not enough cus­tomers will, un­less they are made of­fers they can’t refuse, not by a car sales­man in a loud sport coat, but by a gov­ern­ment bu­reau­crat in a suit.

It’s dif­fi­cult to let go of an Amer­i­can dream. When I was grow­ing up, ev­ery kid wanted to drive his own car. Our fru­gal par­ents (who had just one car) would let us drive theirs, but with re­stric­tions, in­clud­ing a set time to bring the car back in the same pris­tine con­di­tion in which we found it.

A car was a rite of pas­sage. It con­veyed in­de­pen­dence and sta­tus. Each Septem­ber, we sali­vated at the prospect of new mod­els. There al­ways was a big buildup, and we would go to the Chevy (or Ford) dealer early on the morn­ing the new mod­els were in­tro­duced. Some­times they would be cov­ered with sheets, and a dra­matic un­veil­ing would take place. TV com­mer­cials would show parts of new mod­els in a kind of striptease be­fore their de­but.

Some think the mod­els be­tween 1955 and 1959, es­pe­cially the 1957 Chevy Bel Air and the 1958 Im­pala, are un­sur­passed, though Ford devo­tees have their Mus­tangs and T-Birds. Pon­tiac’s GTO (cue the Beach Boys) and some Dodge and Ply­mouth mod­els also were great.

Chrysler had the Im­pe­rial, which re­sem­bled a boat with run­ning lights, and the New Yorker for “old rich peo­ple.” Then there was the one be­yond our reach but not be­yond our dreams: the Cadil­lac. The song “Pink Cadil­lac” be­came a hit, in part be­cause we saw Elvis in one.

Amer­ica’s re­la­tion­ship with its cars has rightly been called a love af­fair. Though some have tried to repli­cate the smell of a new car in spray cans, there is noth­ing quite like the feel­ing of sink­ing into new faux leather and, later, if you could af­ford it, the real thing.

Many, if not all, of those thrills will be gone, thanks to greed by the unions, gov­ern­ment over­reg­u­la­tion and bad man­age­ment. The cus­tomers, who once were al­ways right, have been cheated.

All one has to do is look at gov­ern­ment-made cars to see they are about as at­trac­tive as gov­ern­ment art, gov­ern­ment ar­chi­tec­ture or many other things gov­ern­ment does poorly. The Skoda had its own jokes when the Com­mu­nist Party of Cze­choslo­vakia made it (they’re nice now, thanks to free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism): “How much is a Skoda worth with a full tank of gas?” An­swer: “Twice as much.” East Ger­many’s Tra­bant, a ma­jor pol­luter, was lit­tle more than a two-cy­cle en­gine en­cased in the thinnest ve­neer, and the old Soviet cars were about as ap­peal­ing as a Siberian win­ter. Th­ese are the kinds of cars gov­ern­ments have pro­duced.

Mr. Obama says all of those laid-off au­towork­ers will have to “sac­ri­fice” for the sake of their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. So much for their Amer­i­can dream. If a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent had said that, he would have been de­nounced as in­sen­si­tive and un­car­ing.

“On a high­way, or a road along the levee” “Per­for­mance is sweeter” “Noth­ing can beat her” “Life is com­pleter in a Chevy.” Not any­more. “Bye-bye Miss Amer­i­can Pie; drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry.”

This is the day GM died.

Cal Thomas is na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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