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Obama makes gutsy calls on Final Four, GM

President Obama fills out his Final Four bracket with Andy Katz of ESPN. By the way, Obama incorrectly picked Arizona to lose its first game to Utah.

President Obama fills out his Final Four bracket with Andy Katz of ESPN. By the way, Obama incorrectly picked Arizona to lose its first game to Utah.

From big-time sports to big business, President Obama has made some calls that show he’s not afraid to stick his neck out.

Most presidents and other politicians have been careful not to take sides in big sports events unless a hometown or home state team is involved. Most also have avoided taking on individual big business leaders. But Obama has made these two gutsy calls:

• Before the March Madness – with 65 college basketball teams – began, he picked North Carolina to win it all. Now, the Tarheels are in the Final Four this weekend, and his pick looks good.

• Before he agreed to try to bail out General Motors with more billions this week, he insisted that GM boss Rick Wagoner had to go. Now, Wagoner is gone.

As a politically independent free-enterpriser, I’m for the least possible government involvement in business.

But when government bailout funds are needed, as with GM, whoever provides the bucks should pick the piper, but not call all the tunes.

Nov. 21, when President Bush’s administration was contemplating a Big Three auto bailout, I wrote in this column:

“GM should get the goodies only if Wagoner goes away.” But Bush went ahead with the bailout with Wagoner staying as boss.

Wagoner led GM to its long decline for the past nine years. As is too often the case, his board of directors simply went along.

Most major companies have taken a hit in this recession. But many CEOs – Ford’s Alan Mulally among them – have taken steps to soften the blow and position themselves for the rebound. Those who have deserve continuing support. Those who haven’t, don’t.

If Obama adds North Carolina’s crown to Wagoner’s scalp, he’ll have scored a significant twofer.

Al Neuharth is founder of USA TODAY.



“Right call, wrong coach. Wagoner should have been canned by a bankruptcy court, not the White House. President Obama was out of bounds.”

- James Gattuso, senior research fellow, economic policy, Heritage Foundation

“President Obama made the right call in requiring Wagoner’s dismissal. This step underlines the sacrifice all GM’s stakeholders must make to ensure the company’s survival.”

- Gary Burtless, senior fellow, economics, The Brookings Institution

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