Look At All Those New Cars!
BY DAVID GLENN COX I DECEMBER 30, 2008
The Christmas rituals are over; we've eaten the pumpkin pie and listened to Aunt Martha's annual stories of her health problems, all in the face of incompetent and unfeeling physicians. While I was with my wife's relatives they pulled out their home movies and we watched as the family jumped from holiday to holiday in three-minute, Super 8 vignettes.
As we watched and they commented on relatives lost long ago, I would periodically ask my father-in-law, "How did you ever get by without foreign cars?" Here was a looking glass into middle-class splendor. "That was my '53 Chevy, and that's my brother Michael's '52 Pontiac," he'd say. Then, as it jumped to the next decade, "That's my '63 Super Sport. I can't believe I let the kids ride their bikes so close to it."
No Toyotas, no Hondas, no Kia or Subaru, and yet somehow these people seemed happy. They had a nice home, a nice car, a good Christmas for the kids, and all on a middle-class income.
A day later I had my son over who, as an adult, hadn't seen our home movies, and he made the same comment, "Look at all the new cars!" Joking, I answered, "Yeah, they just didn't know any better, all those American-made cars." We watched the movies and I realized that it wasn't just the cars. The cars were just the most visible manifestation of prosperity; it was the gifts, as well. The toys, the clothes, the lights, the wrapping paper, even the candles and the nativity sets were all made in America.
The money stayed home and circulated through the economy and brought a prosperity envied and unequaled anywhere in the world. My mother's friend, Jean Spidel, was in one of the movies. Her husband was a milkman; he always drove a Mercury. Our long-time friends Helen and Bob Anderson were in there, too. Bob was a Ford man, and he played Santa for the whole street when I was a child.
Don't try and tell any of us kids on Elder Road that there was no Santa Claus because we had all seen him, the same guy, every year. Santa had a good red suit, not the crappy bootlets but real leather boots, and a wide leather belt. The street had all pitched in on the suit and the toys were left in the trunks of all those new American cars. Santa would pass out the toys and take one drink and move on to the next house.
Each house celebrating the birth of Christ, but also celebrating a middle class prosperity unknown a generation before. A street full of young, American families looking forward to tomorrow with bright eyes and hopeful ambitions. With enough disposable income to pitch in on a Santa suit after buying Christmas toys and paying for a new car and a home and doing it on one paycheck, to boot. My Uncle Tom was in some of the movies, too, in his brick house with a new Buick or Oldsmobile in the garage. Tom bought a new car every two years even though he drove them very little; it was a status symbol for him, a display of his prosperity for all to see.
His wife was a homemaker who had never learned to drive and most of the time when Tom traded cars they had less than twenty thousand miles on the odometer. What did he do to earn such a level of prosperity? He was a foreman for International Harvester. My cousin Danny was a Chicago school teacher; he was the first person I ever knew that drove a sports car, a bad-ass GTO. Ray was a used car salesman at the car lot his father owned so he drove lots of cars but bought his wife a new Impala.
Many of these people thought in old ways; they thought in terms of their country's well-being. The older men were veterans and I'd heard more than one say, "Buy Japanese? I already got this from Japan!" whereupon they would open their shirt or pull up a pant leg to show a war wound. Harry Truman was offered a new Toyota when he left office and he answered by saying, "It would be inappropriate for me to accept such a gift, but if I were to accept a car it would have to be an American car."
Today such talk is looked upon as archaic. Bob Dole accepted a condo from Archer Daniels Midland; the Reagans had a mansion built for them by grateful well wishers, and George Bush the elder was given an undisclosed gift by the Emir of Kuwait. The Clinton foundation accepts millions from foreign countries and the message seems to be that this is all right, they are our friends, and we live in a global economy now so don't worry about it.
But I do worry about it; even in a global economy there are winners and losers. Isuzu of Japan recently announced that they had canceled the planned layoffs of 550 workers. They said that they were doing this for the good of their national economy. Toyota has announced layoffs for the first time ever in America but will keep workers employed in Japan. The construction of the Prius plant in Mississippi has been canceled, the contractors told to pick up their tools and go home because it seems that the Japanese do what is best for Japan. I don't fault them for this; I praise them for it. Their government and business community have not forgotten that they are all Japanese first.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII issued a decree dropping ten days from the calendar; his power was immense yet still today not all follow his decree. Globalism is sold to us the same way, that it is inescapable, unavoidable and to believe otherwise is to believe in a flat Earth. Ross Perot was laughed off the national stage when he declared, "If they pass NAFTA, you're going to hear a giant sucking sound of jobs leaving this country." They compared him to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which contributed to the Great Depression. The plan was to make Perot look like a nut with a funny, obscure name like Smoot-Hawley, and maybe he was a nut, but even a broken clock can be right twice a day.
Perot's giant sucking sound has turned into a cold wind that is blowing through the ruins of our cities. America is in recession a year before the experts will admit to it as millions lose their homes and the government piles up massive budget deficits that dwarf any ever run in the long ago days of American prosperity. Those debts then were owed to American banks that bought American Treasury notes. Today we must sell them to our "friends," the Japanese and the Chinese, who buy our raw materials which they turn into manufactured goods and the bulk of the profits stays in their home countries.
So large has this list of multifarious tyrannies escalated that Southern senators are now working at the behest of foreign governments to keep American automobile companies from receiving a bailout. Is it so hard to imagine who will benefit from the demise of the American automobile manufacturers? If you speak against globalism like I do, you will soon hear the charge; "Do you want to start a trade war?" We are already in a trade war and we are losing it, and we are already in a class war and are losing that as well. We are being beaten so badly that we have little left to fight back with but our bodies.
We have been sold a bill of goods by those in the employ of foreign corporations, Quislings who answer to the call of those who pay them while they wear their cheap, foreign-made flag pins on their lapels. Growth in America is negative and wages are flat for all but those same folks who insist that globalism is good for us. The Chinese will buy our Buicks and Chevys, and do. Products that are manufactured in China by Chinese workers in factories owned jointly by the People's Red Army and General Motors. Whose American executives then come to Washington to beg money of Congress and plan new factories in China while gearing up their plants in Mexico.
Globalism is a sham, the proverbial wooden nickel. It benefits the very few and injures the many on both sides of the bargain. China is fast becoming an industrial wasteland and America an enfeebled, toothless tiger. America's poor and hungry are growing at an enormous rate while assistance is reminiscent of the nineteenth century "Jungle" industrialism. While the federal government must look everywhere for new buyers of Treasury notes as they pass the money out to the banks for free and then must pay interest to borrow it back.
How far we've come from those once-prosperous, halcyon days when the middle class drove new cars. Where they saved for their children's futures, back when companies were hiring instead of shutting down. When Pittsburgh was known for steel and Muncie for transmissions, Detroit made automobiles and America made computers and satellites and put men on the moon and dared to dream that anything was possible, while today millions of Americans wonder if they will lose their home this month or next.
An incredible price to pay for cheap junk from Wal-Mart.
Bob Anderson, as Santa, reached the Westenburg's house at the end of Elder Road and the Westenburg children always insisted that their house was Santa's last stop because on Christmas morning when they awoke, they found Santa Claus asleep on their couch.