Our Car Guy on Why Romney’s No “Car Guy”

Mass Appeal’s autos editor, Willie G., tell us why he doubts Mitt’s support of the American auto industry.

“Car guy.” The two words are arguably as American as apple pie. Of course automobiles are a global commodity, but nowhere on earth do they illicit the massive cultural camaraderie as they do right here in the good ol’ US of A. From inked-up old souls who’ve had grease under their nails since pubescence, to cats that look like they stepped out of a Far East Movement video, car guys come in all flavors and varieties–yet share a universal acceptance in our society. You may not classify yourself as one like I do, but chances are high there’s at least a few in your life’s inner  circle. Better yet, odds are they’re good, solid, hardworking people, dedicated to their passion. That said, the fact that a car guy wants to be your president seems like a pretty good thing for the country, right? Yeah, let’s take a closer look at that . . .

Unless you dedicate all your media exposure to Major Lazer videos or that zombie show everybody’s obsessed with, you’ve no doubt heard 2012 Republican candidate for Presidency, Mitt Romney, identify himself on the stump as a “car guy.” On paper, it all checks out. A “Son of Detroit”, born and raised in the Motor City, he came up with plenty of first-hand exposure to the miraculous ways steel, rubber, glass and leather can harmonize into an automobile. Furthermore, lil Mitt’s pops – one George W. Romney – held down the title of chairman and president of American Motors Corporation (AMC) from 1954 to 1962. During that time at the top, he launched the brand’s Rambler line – a smaller stature offering for its era – into serious competition with the Big Three auto companies, defying conventional reasoning and establishing himself as a folk hero of sorts in the industry. By all logic, you’d think such surroundings would raise a fellow with petrol coursing through his veins; one who appreciated skilled, quality craftsmanship and could throw back a beer with the blue-collar man just as easily as he sipped scotch with the white. It may have been the perfect environment for priming and polishing a car guy; and Mitt may tell you it was. But I don’t buy it, and here’s why.

“Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

The contentious, highly-debated title of Romney’s 2008 NY Times op-ed has maintained its relevance through the presidential race as the “binders full of women” and “horses and bayonets” jokes have come and gone. And while he most likely wishes the New York Times went with a heading a tad less callous, Mitt has stuck with his stance of how he’d have aided the then-flailing American auto industry; and not without good reason. In every essence of the word, Obama let two thirds of the Big Three spin into the wheel of fortune’s dreaded black section. The difference here is that the President seemed to already know the solution to the puzzle, while Mitt may have steady stayed buying vowels. Opting to avoid the B-word at all costs, bankruptcy was indeed the necessary first step in implementing Obama’s government-backed restructuring, AKA the bailouts. Romney’s vision of redemption followed the same steps to this point. But rather than dish out federal funds, this was where –in his eyes – the private sector of investors would step in and save the day. The only problem was that it was, in fact, still 2008. Even finance undergrads could tell you that at the time, few U.S. based firms or private investors were in any sort of shape to be pumping money into Detroit at the levels it needed. If Mitt had his way, those Chinese Jeeps we keep hearing about would probably already be on sale. But there’s a deeper, more disturbing issue here than an economic misjudgment; one you just wouldn’t expect from a car guy. Never mind the fact that as I pieced this very editorial together, Chrysler reported its best October sales in five years; or that GM still edged out its earning expectations despite jitters from the impending Hurricane Sandy damage.

Forget all that. Let’s get back to that title of “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” Attention-grabbing? Oh you bet. Thought provoking? Perhaps. But regardless of the business background, they’re words a self-deemed “Son of Detroit” shouldn’t ever have allowed himself to become attached to, even to make a point. If Hova permanently took his talents to South Beach and said “F**k New York Hip-Hop, let it die” would anybody ask “Hey, well what do you really mean by that, Jay?” No, New Yorkers would tell one of their greatest ever to rot in Hell. Which is exactly what Detroit – and the rest of Michigan – seems to be saying to Mr. Romney. I know there was a point to be made, but Jeezy could sum this one up best – you put on for your city. If there’s another car guy out there cold enough to stand by the “let Detroit go bankrupt” phrase, I’d like to meet him; but not really.

Rolling the Dice on China

“President Obama’s action to defend American tire companies from foreign competition may make good politics by repaying unions for his support of their campaign, but it is decidedly bad for the nation and our workers. Protectionism stifles productivity.” – Mitt Romney, “No Apology: The Case For American Greatness”

Yeah, except for the fact that they’re tires, the element that connects a car to the roads built precisely for its travel. Any car guy knows that proper tires are of the utmost importance for traction, performance, but also safety. You need not look any further than the age old ‘kicking tires” symbolism of measuring an automobile’s worth to prove that. Granted, the sparring match here rests more on trade balance and whether a 2009 surge of Chinese manufactured rubbers threatened the jobs of U.S. auto workers. Cracking down via tariffs and hence calming the influx, the President chalked up the move as defense, aimed at protecting the business of domestic tire manufacturers. Romney – despite the fact that he vows to label China a “currency manipulator” on Day 1 – claims it as a detrimental business move, that will only end up hurting our domestic producers in the end. What he overlooked could get you, or your family hurt much sooner.

Ask your mechanic his take on Chinese tires; not some Juggalo working at Mavis, but a real, Frank Rizzo type grease-monkey. Don’t do it in front of your moms though, as the expletives may flow like a quart of spilled oil. While a tire is in essence a band of steel reinforced rubber, the R & D put into elements such as its composition, tread pattern and construction is immeasurable. And just like many other goods on the market, Chinese “knock-off” tires are regarded by many as cheap imitations of quality engineered products; substitutes that may prove to be sub-par, and in this case, downright unsafe. Think of that Louis knapsack your wifey copped you in Chinatown. Sure looks the part, don’t it –you just wish the gold hardware wouldn’t leave that green shit all over your tees. Now picture a similar quality of production is what’s keeping your 3 to 4,000 lb. ride from skimming the asphalt. Car guys do respect competition in the auto industry, but car guys do not buy – nor do they recommend the purchase of – Chinese tires, plain and simple. Maybe that whole “the market will work itself out” mentality gels in some cases, but this ain’t the place to try it out, Mitt. If you are what you say you are, you should know better.

Sensata-tivity Issues

Perhaps you’ve also heard about the plight of Sensata, a sensor manufacturer whose products play an integral role in the automobile supply chain. The company, who has been acquired by Romney-birthed Bain Capital, has been passionately defending the 170 workers of its Freeport, Ill production plant since their jobs were designated for Chinese outsourcing. This could easily dip into another discussion of China, trade deficits and sub-par products, but there’s something else to be addressed; the value of the American worker.

The ‘Made In China’ stamp almost always bears the perception of cheap. With the exception of the iPhone factory that’s incidentally been described along the lines of a slave-driving suicide factory, the wares churned out by the country don’t often impress. On the flip side – though the words have undeniably taken a hit – “Made in the USA” holds weight. That clout, especially in the field of transportation, comes directly from the reputation of the American worker. Bike builder Harley-Davidson moves huge quantities of hogs overseas, likely attributable to that image of quality and excellence in craftsmanship. And since everything seems to end up back there, you know what one of the longstanding Chinese measures of automotive excellence is? A Buick.

Yeah, somewhere along the way, Car Guy Romney must have forgotten the value of our domestic worker, even though the world has done anything of the sort.Take Japanese-owned Nissan, for example. Since mid 2011, the manufacturer created more than 2,000 new jobs at its Smyrna, Tennessee facility alone. Production on one of the brand’s most popular cars – the Sentra – is currently being shifted from Mexico to Canton, Ohio. Much of the company’s 20% increase in annual revenue may go overseas, but a good deal stays right here, feeding, clothing and paying the mortgages of some of the finest auto workers on the planet. And Nissan isn’t the only foreign firm to recognize said value. Toyota, Honda, Kia, Hyundai, Volkswagen – even BMW and Mercedes-Benz – all have models in their current lineup, built 100% on American soil, by American auto workers; car guys if you will, albeit to varying degrees. That said, car guys look out for other car guys – and shipping jobs overseas to workers who have most likely never even driven doesn’t exactly equate to ‘looking out’ in my book.

The Shame of Seamus

All getting too global for you? Let me bring things back home with the unfortunate tale of the late Seamus, Romney’s Irish Setter; a pooch whose legacy became cemented in history from a 12-hour excursion atop the family’s Chevy Caprice station wagon. As the story goes, Romney – maybe with the help of some o’ that Detroit DNA – fashioned a windshield-equipped pet carrier to aid in both aerodynamics and sheer animal enjoyment (think plastic pet box and slab of Plexiglas). Seamus, who in his doggie brain, probably thought “Are you shitting me?” did just that, and responded with a bout of canine diarrhea so severe, the family had to stop to not just hose down the car, but poor Seamus as well. Heavily criticized by PETA and other organizations, Romney defended his actions with a simple declaration; “My dog likes fresh air.”

Alright, admittedly there’s a delicate balance between car guys and man’s best friend. While most dogs allowed to ride shotty find themselves driven to a state of euphoria, it’s not always a good fit for many a reason. Affectionately known by some as ‘Irish Shedders’, I’m guessing Seamus’ heritage of hair loss probably didn’t mesh well with Mitt’s crisp vacation chinos. But what about the car? I also do realize the Caprice Wagon was probably Mitt’s daily beater at the time – however a makeshift pet carrier for a dog that’s literally crapping himself everywhere does not even demonstrate stepchild levels of love for a vehicle; not to mention the countless other motorists encountered on the road. And true car guys, respect every vehicle – lavish or meager, foreign or domestic – they encounter. A true car guy feels remorse for inadvertently spraying the guy behind him with washer fluid, let alone a storm of liquid dog feces. Seamus, God bless him, has since passed but will forever be remembered through the 2012 Devo single, “Don’t Roof Rack Me, Bro (Seamus Unleashed)”.

Your Official Un-endorsement

Why’s it all matter? Does the leader of the free world have to be a car guy? Absolutely not. In fact our current President, when on the 2008 campaign trail, traded in his thirsty but stylish, Chrysler 300C for a more eco-friendly Ford Escape. That right there doesn’t exactly scream out gear head. But unlike Romney, Obama – nor his running mate – have ever attached the label to his character. In reality I’d be willing to wager that neither candidate has so much as changed his own oil, let alone swapped out spark plugs or adjusted a suspension; and that’s ok. But don’t try to identify with me – or the thousands, if not millions of other car guys out there – like you’re on our level, when all signs indicate you’re clearly not.

As I stated at the beginning of this diatribe, car-guys come in all flavors and varieties. Patrick Dempsey races Mazdas. Funkmaster Flex could talk your ear off all day long on the topic of American muscle. The denim-clad version of Jay Leno gets into many new autos even before the auto journalists. And Wyclef Jean is known for having one of the most varied and eclectic collections of cars and bikes in the country – I just shudder at thinking what he sometimes wears in them. These are car guys. Channeling my inner Senator Lloyd Bentsen, I have to say Mr. Romney, you are no car guy. With any hope, I soon won’t have to hear you claiming to be one any more; but it makes me wonder what else you are not.


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