Driving to Reelection?

With Michigan becoming a political battleground in the 2012 election, President Obama gave a speech at an auto plant, and brought South Korea’s President with him to the Wolverine State. The free trade agreement Congress passed opens up business with our neighbors to the east and both president’s gave a speech at the plant explaining how the new trade deal will benefit both countries. But wait, I thought American manufacturers were hesitant about free trade agreements because they don’t want to lose their jobs? It turns out American’s are much more sensible than that.

In a story published in the Birgmingham Patch, the United Auto Workers local leader Louis Rocha said many of the plants employees were excited to see the President, and when it comes to the new trade agreement; “This is supposed to bring some more jobs here back to the country. … There’s a lot of good opportunity for growth here in Michigan.” Autoworkers have good reason to trust Obama, they won’t forget the auto bailout that saved thousands of jobs which helped today’s auto industry to thrive.

In January USA Today and Gallup asked Americans if they favor approving a free trade agreement with South Korea, and 41 percent were in favor while just 22 percent were opposed. While there have been many stories about factories closing because the companies decided to export those jobs to China, the International Trade Administration reported that U.S. “exports rebounded to near-2008 levels and contributed significantly to the United States’ overall economic recovery. U.S. exports of goods and services totaled $1.83 trillion, supporting millions of jobs.” Many Americans have felt this impact by understanding the cars they are building are sent abroad, and that the company they work for may make things in Asia but sell the items in North America.

You can give credit to Eminem, or maybe it is because their sports teams are doing well, but economists will tell you Detroit is doing well because of their ability to export their products. All three major auto industries have revamped their product lines and are reporting strong sale records. While the unemployment rate is still one of the highest in the nation, the good news is a recent report showed that jobs are coming back to Michigan and more jobs are available today than in 2009 when economists said the state hit rock bottom. But the question remains if Obama can show the American people they are better off with him than without him.

This is obviously going to be a tough sell. With unemployment hovering around 9 percent and U.S. GDP barely in positive numbers, many families are still struggling and want a different direction. Both Obama and now Senate Republicans have offered jobs plans that will go nowhere. But in this climate it looks like it is better to have plan then not. When Rick Perry said he would unveil his jobs plan in the last debate he got hammered. Even while policy wonks have been analyzing Herman Cain’s and Mitt Romney’s jobs plan, and pointing out its flaws, they still seem more prepared and ready to take the helm than the other candidates.

Obama also has a basic economic problem. Just because the auto industry is doing well does not mean the rest of the economy will start to roll again. That means the people who do not have the skills to work for Ford can still fall behind. This obviously is not Obama’s fault but he could take the blame for it. In the mean time he should be calling to put more money into Research and Development, allow colleges to start programs that will train people to enter new areas of industry, and despite the Solyndra scandal put money into companies that will help America continue to be a leading producer in the world. Some of these policies have already taken place such as with battery powered cars and increasing broad band accessibility.

None of the candidates are going to be able to prove one way or the other if their plan will actually work. While acknowledging more work still needs to be done the auto industry is one area Obama can tell a success story. Conservatives will argue that it has no chance of passing Congress (which it doesn’t), but when was the last time getting anything through Congress was easy?

The polls currently show a close race between the President in head to head competitions between some of the GOP candidates. As Obama is making the political rounds I can’t remember the last time he invoked any of his possible challenger’s names. The election is still a long time from now and the way Obama will be forced to defend his record will determine whether he will win or lose.

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