by Peter M. DeLorenzo On the eve of Super Bowl XL, with the city of Detroit under the microscope, I think it's the perfect time to focus the attention of the national media on the crisis facing the Detroit automobile manufacturers - and work to eliminate the preconceived notions prevalent in Washington and around the country. I was quite interested in the response President Bush gave to The Wall Street Journal last week when the idea of a government bailout for the Detroit manufacturers was brought up in an interview. He said, "I think it's very important for the market to function," which was a predictable response. But the President's flippant assertion that Detroit should offer "a product that's relevant" is more troubling, because his take on things pretty much crystallizes the prevailing thinking currently running amuck in Washington - and it's clear that a large majority in our U.S. capitol are clearly clueless and out of touch when it comes to the problems facing Detroit and the problems looming for America's manufacturing base. Let's get right to the point here: The Wall Street Journal might have broached the subject of a bailout for Detroit, but none of the Detroit manufacturers are the least bit interested in that notion. Despite the naysayers and the doom prognosticators, Detroit collectively has no intention of folding up its tent or slinking away to become a footnote in the history of a fading industrial America. And anyone who thinks that is not only ill informed, they have a serious lack of understanding of these companies' will to succeed and the role that the entire domestic auto industry plays in the economy of our country. People who flippantly dismiss the fate of the domestic automobile industry in general are simply missing the point. I continue to be amazed by the media intelligentsia on both coasts and by certain members of congress in Washington (who just happen to have foreign auto plants in their districts) who dance around this issue, insisting that what's going on in Detroit will not negatively affect the entire country in some way, shape or form. And they're flat-out wrong. The core issues facing Detroit - global competitiveness, U.S. trade imbalances, health care costs and pension funding - are issues we as a nation must deal with - right now. This is not some isolated bad tiding that will only affect the Rust Belt in the forlorn "flyover" states as the mid-section of the country is often derisively referred to. No, this situation spells trauma for the entire country. Between 1 in 12 and 1 in 15 jobs in this country are still either directly or indirectly related to the domestic automobile business. Think about that statistic for a moment and then insist that it somehow "won't affect me." And you'd be flat-out wrong too. GM and Ford, by sheer virtue of their size and place as two of America's iconic industrial giants will be the lightning rods that will put all of these issues on the table. Yes, they're responsible for much of the trouble they find themselves in and the reasons are numerous - ingrained bureaucratic complacency, short-term thinking instead of long-term planning, a lack of conviction to do what's right instead of what's politically and financially expedient, woefully underachieving executives who squandered every opportunity to deliver the attractive, high-quality products so desperately needed in the face of challenges from relentlessly-focused import manufacturers - and on and on and on. I've documented Detroit's downward spiral in detail for the last six-and-one-half years of doing this publication. But Detroit's current predicament isn't all of their doing, either. And without the corresponding serious discussions and actions in Washington, we as a nation will face severe consequences. This country's lawmakers have been cruising along for years while displaying an Alfred E. Neuman-esque, "What, me worry" attitude, and they're just now waking up and realizing that the dire straits facing Detroit are inexorably linked to the overall well being of the country and its manufacturing base. Yes, Detroit has contributed mightily to its problems over the last 25 years, but there's no denying that the playing field is far from level. As a matter of fact, because of this country's dismally naive trade policies, it continues to be luridly skewed in favor of the import competition at almost every turn. There is an ongoing, calculated campaign to manipulate foreign currency conducted by the governments of Japan and China that is wreaking havoc on our country's manufacturers - auto and otherwise - which is giving Asian-based competitors a ridiculous price advantage in virtually every sector. Combine that with Washington's repeated inability to deal with the burgeoning health care crisis in this country, and this one-two combination of health care costs and currency manipulation results in a disadvantage of $1,500 for every American car right out of the gate - and it grows exponentially with the size and price class of vehicle to well over $10,000. Again, anyone who thinks the issues facing the domestic automobile industry are isolated and "won't affect me" is simply refusing to acknowledge reality. It's no longer just the future of the U.S. auto industry that's at stake here, folks - it's about how this country wants to configure itself for the future. The U.S. will either continue to be a vital producer of goods and services and a manufacturing force to be reckoned with in the world, or we'll be relegated to becoming one giant consumer nation with little or no control over the vagaries of the global economy - or our economic destiny. Detroit is building "relevant" products, and more are coming with each passing month. Getting the American public to consider Detroit's products is one huge challenge that the Detroit manufacturers must and will face alone - and without Washington's help, thank you very much. But it's up to the politicos in Washington, including Mr. Bush, to get off their asses and get to work on dealing with the issues that they can and should be dealing with. That means finally coming up with a rational health care program for this country and it means that the government must stop playing the role of "Uncle Sap" and come up with trade policies that have real teeth in them. In short, Detroit isn't interested in Washington's "input" on how they go about their business. As a matter of fact, Washington's take on anything to do with the inner workings of the auto business should be kept to themselves, because they're clearly clueless on what it takes to succeed in that arena. Washington can, however, do everything in their power to level the playing field that Detroit and other American manufacturers have to compete on. Talking about our "addiction" to foreign oil as Mr. Bush did last night in his State of the Union speech is noble and important and will be an ongoing, long-term issue that this country must deal with. But when it comes right down to it, the President and the politicos in Washington have one important job to do - and that is to provide leadership that's relevant. And they can start by taking immediate action on the domestic policy issues that threaten to consume all of us. Thanks for listening, see you next Wednesday.