Michael Gerson, Bush’s chief speechwriter and senior policy adviser for five years and now a Washington Post columnist, wrote this week, “No president — Republican or Democrat — would have allowed the economic collapse of the Upper Middle West in the midst of a national economic panic.”

Apparently, a President Santorum or a President Romney would.

The Bush administration provided billions in bridge loans that bought enough time to enable the two companies to restructure and enter a managed bankruptcy. Had the companies immediately gone belly-up — and that was the only immediate alternative — they would have been broken up and liquidated to satisfy creditors.

It is hard to imagine any circumstance in which they would have emerged “alive and equally as well, or better off, than they are now,” as Santorum says, without massive government intervention.

But Santorum, who seems untroubled by doubts or second thoughts, told the Detroit Economic Club: “My feeling was that the government should not be involved in bailouts, period.”

As in any bankruptcy, there was a certain unfairness. The workers came out OK — at least most of the remaining workers still had jobs; the bondholders got hammered.

Romney, who you would think would know better, called it “crony capitalism on a grand scale,” an odd position to take for a former venture capitalist and manager of a private equity firm.

But then all the policy choices facing political candidates are easy ones. If only presidential choices were all so clear-cut.

The two auto companies have paid back most of the $80 billion bailout. Even if the government takes a small loss on its investment, that would still be a pittance compared to the economic havoc of letting the two companies go under.

The two leading GOP candidates should man up and admit that the bailouts worked, and it wouldn’t hurt to give a little tip of the hat to our forgotten Republican president, George W. Bush.

Editorial by Dale McFeatters, Scripps Howard News Service

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