Brave Thinkers

Illustration by Quickhoney

Name: Barack Obama
Job: President of the United States
Why he’s brave: He gambled on the auto industry just a few months into his presidency.
Quote: “We will look back and say that this was the moment when the American auto industry shed its old ways, marched into the future, remade itself, and once more became an engine of opportunity.”


In certain quarters—Venezuela, Central Asia, France—the nationalization of industry attracts little notice. Not so in the United States: in yielding to the supplications of the auto companies for help, Obama made an enormous gamble only a few months into his presidency—and he went all in. Withstanding intense scrutiny and criticism, Obama asserted unprecedented government control over America’s once-totemic industry. He committed billions in taxpayer dollars to GM and Chrysler, ousted Rick Wagoner and much of GM’s board, ordered Chrysler to merge with Fiat, and forced the sale of both companies through bankruptcy court in a time frame no one previously thought possible. He also wrangled concessions from bondholders and the autoworkers’ union (the former more aggressively than the latter), backed new-car warranties, halved the number of GM’s domestic brands, and demanded the closing of failing plants and dealerships. He told both companies to improve the fuel efficiency of their fleets, and backed them up by offering $2 billion to boost electric-car production and stimulating demand through the cash-for-clunkers program. “This industry is like no other,” Obama said. “It’s an emblem of the American spirit; a once and future symbol of America’s success.” If this industry should still fail, he owns it. And not just symbolically.

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