Ragging on Wagoner and GM’s Manifesto

How rich it is that Senator Dodd calls for Rick Wagoner’s resignation? Speaking of Little Ricky on “Face the Nation,” Dodd said, “If you’re going to restructure, you’ve got to bring in a new team to do this. I think he has to move on.”

If only Congress were subject to the same level of oversight that will be applied to the Detroit 3 after the bailout. Senator Dodd, it will be remembered, is the recipient of $165,400 in campaign contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—more than any other politician—and was revealed to be a “Friend of Angelo” in the Countrywide Financial meltdown. Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo arranged favorable refinancing rates for Dodd and other VIPs. Fees on last-minute rate reductions were waived as well. Meanwhile, Countrywide engaged in risky lending and dumped those mortgages on Fan and Fred.

Dodd was elected to the Senate in 1980. In 2004 he ignored warnings about the impending subprime mortgage mess and said the mortgage market was “one of the great success stories of all time,” according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2005 he voted against limiting the size of Fan and Fred’s mortgage portfolios.

Here is arrogant power at its peak.

Not that I would mind seeing Wagoner’s head carried off in a basket.

N N N

GM’s commitment to the American people is expressed in an 867-word ad on the inside front page of yesterday’s Automotive News. It’s so poorly written that one wonders if the composition occurred in the back of a Greyhound returning from Washington, D.C.

Take for example the opening sentence:

We deeply appreciate Congress considering General Motors’ request to borrow up to $18 billion from the United States.

That’s a dozen and a half words, or $1 billion per word. “Congress,” incidentally, should be possessive, breaking as it does on the crest of a gerund. The way to know for sure is to substitute a pronoun; if it’s possessive—”their”—replacing it with a noun would require the apostrophe: “Congress’s.” But that’s too fancy for GM. Anyway, as for the prolixity, how about this?

General Motors deeply appreciates Congress’s consideration of our $18 billion loan request.

There you have it in a dozen words, or $1.5 billion per word. Be direct! Make every word count! Whose money would Congress be lending? Albania’s?

The next biggest problem is how the voice wavers in the piece. “We deeply appreciate” and “we have been serving your personal mobility needs” and “We have paid dearly,” et cetera. But then the reader reaches a paragraph that starts with “GM is also driven to lead in fuel economy…” Why this jarring shift to objective presentation? And as long as inconsistencies are being examined, let’s look at the following passages:

We want to be sure the American people know why we need a loan, what we will do with your money and how it will make GM viable for the long term.

We accept the conditions of your loan, the commitments of our plan, and the results needed to transform our business for long-term success.

Last comma in a series: either use it or don’t, but be consistent.

Toward the end, the writing becomes what one of my English teachers, June Duncan, called “this-y and that-y.” For example, “This is why we need to borrow” and “This will be devastating to all Americans” and “This will allow us to keep operating” and “These actions, combined with a modest rebound of the U.S. economy…”

Another stylistic faux pas is the overlong lists of bullet points, but GM presents The Ten Commitments, which I skipped over on first reading and still can’t get through in one attempt. Who can remember so much? Worse yet, in a two-column layout, the list is right in the middle of the bottom third of the page and I started reading it upon reaching the bottom of the first column, but of course it didn’t scan.

But most egregious of all, many of the assertions that are made in the piece are pure drivel. GM says it’s “determined to reinvent the automobile with revolutionary new products like the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle and breakthrough technology like hydrogen fuel cells.” Sure thing—GM has been invoking mythical cars for too long, and I rank the likelihood of their success right up there with that of D.B. Cooper’s soft landing with all the money and his building a comfortable life for himself in the suburbs. GM promises to “create high quality jobs for the ‘new economy.'” I assumed GM would continue to eliminate jobs. “And we will continue to deliver personal mobility freedom to Americans using the most advanced transportation solutions.” No kidding? Telekinesis?

GM had the opportunity to issue a manifesto. The piece before us merely documents its waning voice.

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One thought on “Ragging on Wagoner and GM’s Manifesto

  1. Is part of the bailout going to hire a proof reader?

    I guess I shouldn’t hold out hope that my 5 year/100,000 mile GM warranty will run out based on miles.

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