Detroit Auto Show: Pelosi, LaHood Declare Victory Too Soon

Last Updated Jan 18, 2010 1:08 PM EST

There was an unmistakable chorus of "Happy Days Are Here Again" playing in the background at last week's press preview for the Detroit auto show, which I thought was premature, in poor taste and politically motivated.

Premature, because it's by no means certain whether consumer demand is coming back fast enough to support the Detroit Big Three of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, even in their newly downsized form.

In poor taste, because of the tens of thousands of auto jobs lost in the last year, on top of years of job losses before that. Photo opportunities and happy talk are staples of the Detroit auto show, but they must have grated even more than usual this year on people who have lost their jobs.

Politically motivated, because the lead singers included politicians like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Their agenda is to justify the billions in taxpayer dollars used to bail out Chrysler and General Motors through bankruptcy restructuring. Naturally, the Washington delegations that trooped through Detroit for the auto show looked upon their works and declared them good.

I don't entirely disagree, but I especially think it's premature - maybe even unlucky - to declare victory. I also can't help but think there's a 2010 version of the 1989 movie "Roger & Me" to be had, contrasting the happy talk inside the Detroit auto show versus the human devastation outside.

"Roger & Me" was Michael Moore's breakout movie. He skewered then-GM Chairman Roger Smith for being out of touch with the suffering GM layoffs caused in Moore's hometown of Flint, Mich. Today's situation makes the late 1980s look like the good old days.

LaHood's rhetoric would make a particularly good target for the Moore treatment.

"For those who would say government shouldn't have gotten involved, if not for the Obama Administration ... this industry would not see the bright future that it sees today," he said in a speech.

"The automobile industry is back, and it is a new day, and it is a bright day," LaHood said.

Photo: North American International Auto Show