POLITICAL observations & opinions

* political lessons from GM’s successes?

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 3, 2009

William Holstein writes in today’s NYT …

  • Mr. Wagoner (CEO of General Motors) has presided over the most sweeping transformation of G.M. since the 1920s.
  • He has reversed management’s long practice of meekly going along with the demands of the United Auto Workers.
  • these moves have largely succeeded and by 2010 should strip $5,000 from the cost of every G.M. vehicle.
  • Mr. Wagoner has allowed his designers to recapture car design leadership with products like the Cadillac CTS, the Saturn Aura, the new Chevrolet Malibu and the revived and visually dazzling Camaro.
  • The cliché that G.M. makes only gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles is years out of date.
  • Mr. Wagoner was responsible for introducing OnStar, the onboard communications and navigation system, and he has made a huge commitment to lithium-ion batteries, which will power the Chevrolet Volt, an extended-range electric vehicle.
  • Mr. Wagoner has globalized G.M. to a degree that it never has been before. The company’s strong position in China has helped support the difficult turnaround effort in North America.
  • Before the financial crisis tanked American automotive sales, Mr. Wagoner had almost guided the country’s largest industrial company into a new era, demonstrating great resilience in the face of intense global competition.
  • Making him a scapegoat might be politically expedient but it ignores the very tangible progress he has achieved.

LMW COMMENT … I don’t know for sure if Mr. Holstein’s analysis is correct, or whether he is merely extracting certain of Mr. Wagoner’s successes from an overall record of failure. But reading his column brings home once again how polarized and generally uninformed much political debate actually is. Who among our politicians takes the time and has the ability to read, listen and become truly informed? Who in the media or among the voters has an interest in nuanced analysis as opposed to partisan sound bites? The political system is stacked against serious informed judgment, yet that is what we will need most as Barack Obama, who does read, listen and think, tries to lead us out of the mess we are in.

William J. Holstein is the author of the forthcoming “Why G.M. Matters: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon.” Read his entire article at … http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/03/opinion/03holstein.html?ref=opinion



One Response to “* political lessons from GM’s successes?”

  1. Jon said

    Your comment asks “Who among our politicians takes the time and has the ability to read, listen and become truly informed?”. It reminds me of a time in my life when my job entailed reporting on and analyzing federal policymaking. I was, and remain, truly astounded at how EASY it is for a member of Congress to be well-informed.

    Each day, members and their staffs are able to attend hearings on very specific topics at which the world’s foremost experts (individuals and interest groups) are invited to testify. Not only can the members hear and probe these witnesses, but they have their own staffs, committee staffs, the Congressional Research Service and the the Government Accountability Office to condense and summarize key points, while providing as much back up information as desired. Imagine being able to invite these experts to YOUR office to explain key issues to you.

    Members of Congress are in position to receive the greatest education possible. In my view, this potential is central to our representative government model. Obviously, this level of information and expertise is not available to each of us, so we elect representatives to spend their time, in large part, becoming more informed than us. And then, ideally, we trust their judgment and intent when they make a policy decision based on this information.

    It is a tragedy that so many elected officials choose not to use this resource. It is tragic as well that so many elected officials are not only unwilling to learn all sides of an issue, but are apparently incapable of making a reasoned, thoughtful assessment of this information for the greatest good. To this end, we certainly get the government we deserve.

    My hope is that President Obama is able to demonstrate the political skills necessary to move those less motivated by thoughtful regard for all the facts to act in concert with his desired outcomes. We all owe it to our country to elect representatives who share his capacity and willingness to go beyond base political ideology to understand issues and their repercussions.

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