In "ClunkerClass War," Timothy Egan's Thursday's post at nytimes.com, the former Times reporter defended the Obama administration's "cash for clunkers" program, whereby people can trade in their old cars forvehicles with better gas mileage - and get $4,500 of taxpayer money to boot. Egan attacked Republicans who've criticized it as anti-free market as sore losers.
Egan seemed pleasantly shocked to discover that if you give away other people's money to buy cars, they'll take you up on the offer.
My clunker was a '64 Ford Galaxie, logging maybe eight miles to the gallon on level ground, the back seat burned to the coils by a knucklehead friend who left a cigarette to smolder. When it died, just short of 140,000 miles, everything went. Sold it for scrap and $50 - with the tow.
Today, I'd trade that dog on wheels in a New York minute for the upgrade, some smart mileage car that is one of the autos zooming off my neighborhood lot as part of the Cash for Clunkers program.
But according to a barnacled cluster of senators, this program must be sunk, now. It's been far too successful - dealers have been swamped, people are lining up to buy cars that burn less gas and bring instant cash to crippled local economies.
In Egan's liberal mindset, GOP opponents of "cash for clunkers" aren't principled believers in the free market, just sour pusses who can't stand the little guy getting a break:
They hate it, many of these Republicans, because it's a huge hit. It's working as planned, and this cannot stand. America must fail in order for President Obama to fail. Don't be surprised if the tea party goons now being dispatched to shout down town hall forums on health care start showing up at your car dealers, megaphones in hand.
But there's another reason, less spoken of, for why some people get so incensed over little old Cash for Clunkers: it helps average people, and it's easily understood - a rare combination in a town where the big money deals usually go down with packaged obfuscation.
Yep, that's certainly why most people are Republican - they hate average people.
But is the program really popular? Of course it is among those people who are doing the deal - free tax money always is. But at least one poll, a Rasmussen Reports poll from mid-June (after Congress had signed the legislation but before the program came online) found the trade-in-plus-tax-money program an unpopular idea:
Despite the willingness of people to accept the money if it was available, 54% opposed the "Cash for Clunkers" proposal and just 35% were in favor the plan. Twelve percent (12%) were undecided.
Egan played populist, leaving aside the pesky question of how destroying perfectly usable used cars is going to help the poor.
But try to give struggling families a one-time boost to buy a more fuel-efficient car, with an amount that wouldn't pay for paper clips at A.I.G., and it's...outrageous!
Reports from car dealers show that clunker stimulus has boosted show room traffic up to 200 percent. The most common vehicles being traded in, they said, are pickups and S.U.V.'s; the most popular replacements will save drivers more than $1,000 a year in gas costs.
Those who oppose this program on principle argue that government should not be choosing winners and losers in the marketplace, even in a down economy. But both parties have long used federal money for precisely that, intending to change society, in ways big and small.
Tuesday's lead story by Matthew Wald and Nick Bunkley, "Spurring Sales, Car Rebate Plan Is Left Up In Air," hardly questioned the program, perhaps because its one of the few Obama initiatives popular these days.
The fate of the"cash for clunkers"program remained uncertain on Monday even as sales figures from automakers demonstrated that people had flocked to dealers to trade in old gas guzzlers.
The White House urged the Senate to add $2 billion to the program, as the House voted to do last Friday before leaving for its August recess. Still, dealers around the country stopped promising the rebates to car shoppers on Monday, because of uncertainty about how much of the $1 billion initially allocated had been used up, or when or whether more money would be available. The Senate begins its recess this Friday.
The short-term tonic of the first billion dollars was evident, though, in sales figures that automakers reported Monday. New-vehicle sales rose last month to the highest level in nearly a year, and in the final week of July, cars and trucks were rolling off dealers' lots at almost the same rate they had before therecessionbegan.
The Times quoted four politicians who supported the program, three Democrats and moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, before getting to objections from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
National Review writer Jonah Goldberg was markedly less enthused in his Los Angeles Times column, likening the program to the famous "broken window" fallacy.
As you've no doubt heard, the "cash for clunkers" program gives buyers up to $4,500 of taxpayer dollars toward the purchase of a new car, if they trade in their old cars for vehicles with better gas mileage. The old cars, still roadworthy, are then destroyed just like the shopkeeper's window.
The thinking behind the program is that the car companies need a boost, Michigan needs a boost, the environment needs a boost (through lower emissions) and Americans need help too.
Unsaid, but just as relevant, is that the authors of the government's mammoth stimulus plan need some proof that something is being stimulated.
So this scheme is win-win-win-win. Within days, the $1 billion that was supposed fund the program through at least October was used up as consumers, most of whom had been waiting to trade in their old cars anyway, took advantage of the free-money program. Indeed, Washington is agog with its own success, stunned to discover that Americans like getting free money.