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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Buying American

In our chapter on economic policy, we discuss the politics of international trade. Our chapter on mass media explains the role of opposition research. The two topics can merge, as The Hill reports
The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) appears to drive a foreign car, despite criticizing Republican presidential candidates for supposedly favoring foreign auto manufacturers.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the DNC, ripped into Republican presidential contenders who opposed President Obama's 2009 bailouts for General Motors and Chrysler.

"If it were up to the candidates for president on the Republican side, we would be driving foreign cars; they would have let the auto industry in America go down the tubes," she said at a breakfast for reporters organized by The Christian Science Monitor.
But according to Florida motor vehicle records, the Wasserman Schultz household owns a 2010 Infiniti FX35, a Japanese car whose parent company is Nissan, another Japanese company. The car appears to be hers, since its license plate includes her initials.
On November 5, 1984, The Washington Post reported:
In Michigan, the campaign of Democratic Sen. Carl Levin is broadcasting a 1983 film segment that shows Republican Senate candidate Jack Lousma, a former astronaut, telling a Japanese audience that "back home in the United States" he owned a Toyota. Lousma, badly needing the votes of people whose livelihoods depend on the U.S. auto industry, last week said the car belongs to his son.
In 1980, the running mate of independent presidential candidate John Anderson made an admission in Michigan. On September 4 of that year, the Post reported:

Anderson raised the debate issue during the last day of a five-day Midwest swing plagued by bad weather and minor snafus. Today, for example, Anderson's vice presidential running mate, Patrick Lucey, made an embarrassing admission here in the automobile capital of the nation. He said he drives a French-made Peugeot, not an American-made car. The car, he added, "is not a very valuable asset to our family, and I think it's less valuable to the campaign."

In 2004, the late Deborah Orin summed it up in The Columbia Journalism Review:
The AP story also reported Kerry’s statement about the need for his family to buy American cars. That inspired me to ask The Post library to help check what cars were registered to the Kerry family — we discovered, as I’d half-expected, that they owned foreign cars like a German Audi that he’d conveniently omitted from the list of family cars that he ticked off for reporters. Initially the Kerry campaign tried to claim they had no idea whether or not Teresa Heinz Kerry owned an Audi. But that didn’t work because I’d already confirmed with two separate people at the Massachusetts motor vehicle department that she did indeed own this particular German-made car with this license plate and vehicle identification number with a current registration at her Beacon Hill address.

Incidentally, the person who first taught me the importance of checking whether a candidate owns a foreign car was none other than Kerry’s political guru — Bob Shrum.In the 1988 presidential campaign when Shrum was working for Dick Gephardt, his team ran a tough anti-foreign car TV ad in Iowa that arguably won the caucuses for Gephardt — it attacked the Japanese-made* Hyundai as a threat to American jobs. No reporters (me included) caught onto the little secret that made Shrum’s ad especially potent but also safe for Gephardt — at the time, Iowa had no Hyundai dealers so it was easy to attack Hyundais without offending many Iowans.

In the fallout from the Hyundai ad, I learned that most political strategists warn their candidates to drive only American cars in case reporters or rivals ask (Pat Buchanan once got clobbered in Michigan for owning a Mercedes). In fact, many political consultants also drive only American themselves for the same reason.