Front Page to Back Page to No Page: the Outrage That Went Away

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Immediately following Obama’s coup at General Motors, and near-takeover of Chrysler as well, there was about two weeks of news coverage of the shocking number of dealerships summarily, and seemingly arbitrarily, put out of business.

The demand for explanation of why and how one dealership was killed, another spared execution was ever so briefly loud, then quieted, then silenced. This front page story moved to the back pages and, in short order, to oblivion – and the questions it raised were never answered.

Case in point: Ron Marhofer, the owner of Marhofer Chevrolet in the little burg of Stow, Ohio, got one of those letters informing him that his dealership would be closed. As of October 2010, its doors would be closed, and its 80 employees’ jobs killed, although his access to new inventory would stop immediately after the 20 cars already on order.

You might think, well, it’s a small town dealership not selling enough cars to make it worth Government Motors’ trouble supplying it. But this dealership, in business since 1933, is the county’s oldest Chevy dealer, and it has been having a banner year. While the auto market nationwide is down 40 percent, Marhofer’s new car sales are up 57 percent for 2009 – before the cash for clunkers nonsense. In each of the past two years, this was the top selling Chevy dealership in the entire county. A competing dealership two communities away, in this same county, is not having such a good year. But it was apparently chosen to profit from Marhofer’s execution.

When Marhofer pressed GM for explanation of his being selected for slaughter, he was told “We can’t tell you.” One wonders who has dictated to GM that it can’t explain. Since Mr. Marhofer and his 80 employees are tax payers and thus actually own GM, it would seem particularly reasonable for them to demand and get a rational explanation for their execution. Even in most communist or dictator-run countries, some charge is brought and at least a mock trial is conducted before sentence passed. The victim is given some reason for his beheading.

Of course the fates of Mr. Marhofer, his paltry 80 employees, the other employees at other small businesses near his dealership, are of no measurable consequence to you or I or, certainly, the Great and Wonderful Ozbama. He has bigger fish to fry. But multiply Marhofer times a hundred and you’re talking 8,000 jobs. By two hundred, it’s 16,000 jobs – good blue collar jobs for mechanics and service techs, clerical jobs held by working moms. In Congress and the media, much shouting has gone on much longer over much less.

Not to mention the principle at stake here – a family’s equity in its business built out of the Great Depression and sustained over generations has been arbitrarily wiped away at the stroke of a pen, and it is refused explanation. The president’s Car Czar’s grubby fingerprints are most certainly on the pen, should the CSI crew investigate.

Obama has been sending messages. He has told CEO’s, I will fire you at will, take your company, impose new and arbitrary capital requirements, rules and governing czars as I please. You serve at my pleasure. With the savaging of the small businesses in the auto industry, he has told all of us who own small businesses that he can with impunity shutter our doors, dismiss our employees and destroy all we have worked for. With the mercifully short-lived “snitch” web site, he threatened critics of his health care takeover. His Democrats in Congress intimidate the insurance companies with threats of dragging CEO’s to televised hearings, holding up receipts from some resort sales conference and demanding explanation for the steaks and shrimp cocktails.

Ron Marhofer now knows what everyone else will learn: whatever you think you own, you don’t. The only power is Obama’s. The only rights you have are those he decides, day to day, to let you have.

To their shame, the media has let this story go, even though there’s good chance there’s a Watergate buried in it somewhere. Killing the successful auto dealers while sparing the less successful is most likely a political rather than equitable or rational decision.

They let the story go, even though it illustrates the dire threat to anyone who thinks they actually own anything, they actually have any control over anything.

Dan Kennedy is a serial entrepreneur, adviser to business owners, sought-after speaker and author of 13 books. More information about Dan can be found at, and a free collection of his business resources including newsletters and webinars at