Obama Defends Auto Bailout, Blasts Romney for 'Let Detroit Go Bankrupt'

In a raucous barnstorming speech before 1,500 autoworkers, Obama accused rivals of brazen dishonesty over the $80 billion auto bailout, as he injected himself into Tuesday's close-fought Michigan Republican primary.

A pugnacious President Barack Obama tore into Republican opponents for talking "a load of you-know-what" on the campaign trail and fighting efforts to save the U.S. auto industry on Tuesday.

In a barnstorming speech before 1,500 autoworkers, Obama accused rivals of brazen dishonesty over the $80 billion auto bailout, as he injected himself into Tuesday's close-fought Michigan Republican primary.

Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich vehemently opposed government help for General Motors and Chrysler, but have struggled to square that stance with voters in a state that is home to generations of autoworkers.

Santorum and Romney are tied in the polls.

"I've got to admit, it's been funny to watch some of these folks completely try to rewrite history now that you're back on your feet," Obama told a rowdy gathering of the United Auto Workers.

With General Motors posting record profits and Chrysler back in black, Obama contrasted his policies with past Republican -- and particularly Romney's -- entreaties to "let Detroit go bankrupt."

'That's a Load of You-Know-What'

In full campaign flow, Obama did not refer to his rival by name but repeatedly quoted a 2008 article penned by Romney arguing the government should "let Detroit go bankrupt."

On the defensive, the Michigan-born former governor has frequently accused Obama of engineering the bailout to help his union friends, leveling charges of "crony capitalism."

Obama hit back at that charge, using unusually strong language.

"You've got folks saying, well, the real problem is -- what we really disagreed with was the workers, they all made out like bandits -- that saving the auto industry was just about paying back the unions.

"I mean, even by the standards of this town, that's a load of you-know-what."

"Since when are hard-working men and women who are putting in a hard day's work every day -- since when are they special interests? Since when is the idea that we look out for one another a bad thing?"

While Michigan reliably votes Democrat in the general election, Obama's campaign brain trust will hope his message seals a win there in November and plays well in nearby battleground states Ohio and Indiana.

Those swing Rust Belt states have been decisive in previous general elections and have seen decades of manufacturing decline compounded by the recent recession.

Reiterating his election-year calls for a fair economy, Obama also said not acting to save the auto industry would have meant a return to "that same old 'you-are-on-your-own' philosophy that says we should just leave everybody to fend for themselves."

"We were not going to take a knee and do nothing," he said to applause and chants of "four more years!"

"It wasn't popular. And it wasn't what I ran for president to do. But you know what, I did run to make the tough calls and do the right things -- no matter what the politics were."

Failure to act, he argued, would have cost 1 million jobs, and left the country, the Midwest and the sector "hung out to dry."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

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