WASHINGTON -- President Bush, who returned a week ago from a trip promoting American products in Asia, need only look out the side windows at the White House to see evidence that made-in-the-USA goods have trouble competing.
A random check of the spaces in the privileged parking area next to the White House a week ago showed that almost two-thirds of the cars were foreign-made. Of 63 cars and trucks, 39 were foreign. Many late-model Toyotas, Nissans, Hondas and Mazdas were parked there, along with a few Volvos, Jaguars and Volkswagens.
But at least the limousines were American-made.
Even Marlin Fitzwater, the president's spokesman, confessed to driving a 1980 Mercedes. Did he feel a little guilty about it?
"Yes," Fitzwater responded rather sheepishly, "but it's a good car, I've had it for more than 10 years, and I'm keeping it."
Another staffer admitted that of the four cars he had owned in his lifetime, none was American. But he wasn't contrite. "We live in a land of quality, but we sure ain't the best in autos," he said.
A former White House official, James Cicconi, said his Nissan was better made than his previous car, a Pontiac Firebird, and he made no apology because it was "a real good car."
Driving a foreign car even as the president is promoting U.S. products abroad might seem a bit problematic, but one official didn't see it that way. He said he'd be "the first in line" when U.S. cars improve in quality.
Bush took the heads of the three major U.S. auto companies and other business executives with him on his 10-day trip to Australia, Singapore, Japan and South Korea. Although the president pronounced the trip a success, the auto executives were gloomy about Japanese willingness to buy more U.S. cars or auto parts.
Bush had issued the invitation to the auto makers to go along on the trip, and their negative reactions aroused the anger of a number of White House aides. "They're arrogant and just flat wrong. They seem to want a guaranteed market for themselves," said one. "That's just not in the cards."
Even Bush's conservative Republican challenger in the New Hampshire primary, Patrick J. Buchanan, whose campaign theme is America First, drives a Mercedes. Buchanan said recently that he also had a Cadillac, but it was in the garage most of the time. "General Motors and Ford and these guys did a bad job in the 1970s," said Buchanan, adding that he had bought "three straight Cadillacs. . . . We got three straight lemons."