Mr. Wagoner, One of These Things Is NOT Like the Others

The NYT played the latest few notes in the funeral dirge for General Motors today.

It’s hard to think of a tougher job than Rick Wagoner’s.  Unless, of course, you’re Ben Bernanke.  Among other cheery soundbites, this one stuck out:

“The broad cutbacks included a 20 percent reduction in payroll for salaried workers, elimination of health care for older white-collar retirees, and suspension of G.M.’s annual stock dividend of $1 a share.”

Layoffs I understand.  No such thing as guaranteed employment in a tough industry.  Dividend cut, yeah, no kidding.  No guarantees for shareholders.  But the health care cuts?  The article continued:

“While G.M. has been methodically cutting jobs since 2006, the decision to eliminate health care benefits for salaried retirees over the age of 65 was unexpected.

The generous health plans for retirees has long been considered a pillar of the benefit system at G.M. The company pledged to increase pensions to offset the loss of coverage.

Still, retirees interviewed Tuesday said that they were blindsided by the move.”

Blindsided?  Ya think?  Try clothes-lined, speared, tripped, clipped, cracked-back and run over, with a lifetime supply of unnecessary roughness and exceedingly unsportsmanlike conduct.

How exactly does this work?  I’m 65 with cancer and health care coverage one day, and then next I’m 65 plus a day and I have to figure out how to pay for my chemo myself?  Just because Rick Wagoner says so?  Were these people entitled to have GM pay their hc costs under the terms of their pension plan, or weren’t they?  What do they do now?

And most of all, WHY ISN’T SEN. OBAMA TALKING ABOUT THE DISASTER OF FAILED PENSION PLANS IN THE INDUSTRIAL MIDWEST?

This is exactly the kind of sharp, specific pain that the Obama campaign *desperately* needs to shine a light on, especially in the context of today’s NYT poll that shows he simply is not making the sale on the economy.  Nobody is talking about the pension mess, which just happens to be centered in the states he must win, and happens to be an issue of supreme importance to the older white males who are giving him the most trouble.  Again, these people do not care about job programs.  But they are bewildered and terrified that, having held up their end of the bargain, they are being let down in the moist horrifying and basic of ways.

Sen. Obama, the economy may or may not be in crisis.  (I’m more pessimistic than Phil Graham. ) But a very identifiable group of citizens undeniably is.  And you can bet that they’ll turn out in November in Michigan, but in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.  Win these people over, and you’re President.  For crying out loud, Senator, plant yourself in Michigan and talk to them.

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