The President of the United States is a man who has succeeded largely by substituting charisma for substance. It's critically important for him to look like a heavyweight. Understanding this well, the New York Times is obliging Mr. Obama with the headline "Obama Issues Ultimatum to Carmakers," accompanied by a picture of the Great Man looking stern and powerful by contrast with the non-entities who appear alongside him.
Under the terms of the deal in which GM borrowed emergency funds from the government last December, the company is required to produce a credible operating plan with sharp cost-cutting measures by March 31, or else face a demand to immediately return the funds (thus triggering immediate moves by creditors to liquidate GM). Those of us with eyes knew at the time just how empty a covenant this would turn out to be.
Today, Obama is putting lipstick on the pig. He's presenting what is called an ultimatum to GM and Chrysler (the beneficiaries of emergency government funds), to shape up or ship out. And they have 60 days to do it. We don't really know what Obama actually wants to see happen in 60 days. Characteristically, he doesn't say, which is your cue to add your own writing to his blank slate.
Why am I so cynical? Because the deal was for GM to restructure or die by March 31. Obama just gave them a sloppy wet kiss in the form of a 60-day reprieve, and he wants us to think he was being tough. The only cost that he imposed on GM was the dismissal of CEO Wagoner, whose departure has long been only a matter of time. And I'm betting that 60 days from now, there will be another big dollop of taxpayer funding for GM, accompanied by more harsh words.
And of course, another opportunity to take stern photographs of our Dear Leader.