Bush and the Timken Plant, a Year Later


I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.

A. Lincoln, Letter to A.G. Hodges

Events conspire to make George Bush look foolish. It’s not that events are clever. It’s that Mr. Bush is not. His lack of cleverness, however, disturbs neither him nor members of his administration, a reflection on them all. A recent example involved the Timken Plant in Canton, Ohio.

On April 24, 2003, the president stood alongside W.R. “Tim” Timken in the Timken Company plant in Ohio and urged the employees to support his proposed tax cut for the rich. He didn’t use those words since that would have offended the hourly workers most of whom were not among the rich but many of whom were in the audience. If enacted, said Mr. Bush, the tax cut would spur economic growth assuring his audience of continued employment if not huge tax benefits. The only difference between the effect of the tax cut on the worker and the rich person was the rich person would get more money for doing nothing whereas the worker would get more money by remaining employed.

The tax cut passed in 2003. In that year Mr. Timken earned more than $2.6 million and reportedly received tax breaks of approximately $59,000. Timken workers had jobs throughout 2003 and, in addition enjoyed a tax reduction as well. Figures compiled by Citizens for Tax Justice suggest that 89% of Ohio residents among whom many of the Timken workers were certainly numbered, received tax cuts closer to $100 than to $59,000. The small amount of benefit received by ordinary workers from the tax cut was made up for by the fact that they still had jobs and were, therefore, earning money.

As Mr. Bush’s speech made abundantly clear, the tax cut was a win-win situation for the idle rich and industrious worker alike. Emphasizing the point and using Timken Company as an example, Mr. Bush said that: “The future of this company is b right and therefore, the future of employment is bright for the families that work here.”

I wasn’t there but I can imagine the applause from the workers who were excited about the fact that their future with Timken was assured. Mr. Bush’s visit had nothing to do with the fact that Mr. Timken was one of Mr. Bush’s big supporters and, according to Campaign Money Watch, raised $600,000 for Mr. Bush in one night. His visit in 2003 was nothing more nor less than serendipitous.

Mr. Bush spoke at the plant in April of 2003. The future of the company looked bright for the “families that work here” as Mr. Bush said. Then a strange thing happened.

On May 16, 2004, slightly more than a year after Mr. Bush’s visit, Mr. Timken decided to close the plant in which Mr. Bush spoke and two other Timken plants in the Canton area. He made the decision even though the tax cut passed and even though he saved $59,000 in taxes as a result of its passage. The closure had nothing to do with the fact that the tax cut didn’t provide the promised benefits. It had to do with the fact that Mr. Timken decided to close the plant.

Closing the plant means that 1,300 people who were told by the president one year earlier that they had a bright future now have neither bright future nor jobs. They would be forgiven for asking what Mr. Bush had in mind when he uttered those words. People without jobs, after all, often think the future is not very bright.

For the town of Canton the future doesn’t like bright. Timken was its biggest employer. Its 1,300 newly unemployed will join the 200,000 other residents of Ohio who have lost their jobs since George Bush became president. Tad Ellsworth, Canton’s finance and service director, said Timken is the city’s No. 1 taxpayer. He said the plants’ closings will have a devastating effect on the city’s finances although he was unable to say how much taxpayer money would be lost.

Of the 1,300 employees affected by the closure, 1,150 are hourly employees and 150 are salaried. The odds are not good that they will all promptly be reemployed. That’s too bad but, as the company’s public relations manager said: “It’s just all about being competitive.”

One wonders what Mr. Bush’s speech would have sounded like had he known then what he knows now about Timken’s future. Events make him look foolish. What else is new?

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

Christopher Brauchli can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com