In Indiana, Obama sells small side of stimulus

Michael Conroy/AP
President Obama greeted members of the audience in Wakarusa, Ind., Wednesday after announcing $2.4 billion in taxpayer grants to create next-generation electric cars.

When it comes to targeting the federal government's recovery money, small is beautiful.

Bail out big banks? Unpopular. Buy AIG? Nah! Prop up automakers? C'mon! Who's going to get reelected saying "I grew Fiat"?

So when officials of the Obama administration fanned out across the US Wednesday to showcase $2.4 billion in federal grants to develop next-generation electric cars, they didn't trek to the Big Three.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke went to Kansas City, Mo., to announce a $10 million grant to Smith Electric to build up to 100 electric vehicles. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson visited St. Petersburg, Fla., to highlight a $95.5 million grant to Saft America to build a new lithium-ion batteries. President Obama traveled to a Navistar electric-vehicle plant in Wakarusa, Ind., (Wakarusa?) as a backdrop for a speech on the economy and the stimulus.

He emphasized how the stimulus was helping small folks.

"One-third of the money has gone to tax relief for families and small businesses," he told local residents. "Another third of the money in the Recovery Act has been for emergency relief that is helping folks who've borne the brunt of this recession..... The last third of the Recovery Act, and that's what we're going to talk about here today, is for investments that are not only putting people back to work in the short term, but laying a new foundation for growth and prosperity in the long run. These are the jobs building the future of America, upgrading our roads and our bridges, renovating schools and hospitals."

He didn't mention that Chrysler ($70 million), GM ($30.5 million), and Ford ($30 million) were also getting funding under the electric-vehicle initiative.

To be fair, not to include those companies would be outlandish since they'll be big drivers of the technology.

But that consideration was probably secondary to the political one. The only way Obama can sell his stimulus is to highlight the small businesses and families who are getting help.

Small sells these days. Big is ugly.

Incidentally, Vice President Biden did go to Detroit Wednesday to announce those grants to the Big Three and other Michigan companies. His venue? NextEnergy, a small nonprofit involved in alternative and renewable energy.
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