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A $15.3 billion profit for taxpayers

This is GM headquarters in Detroit on

This is GM headquarters in Detroit on Jan. 14, 2014. Credit: AFP-Getty Images / Stan Honda

Washington closed the books last week on the wildly unpopular bank and auto bailouts that gave rise to the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.

Bottom line: a $15.3 billion profit for taxpayers.

The goal back in the scary days of 2008 and 2009 was to stabilize an economy in free-fall. Things were really bad.  Banks were collapsing, credit was impossible to get, home values were plunging, General Motors and Chrysler were on the brink of liquidation and hundreds of thousands of jobs were disappearing every month.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama made the tough calls to mount the controversial $426 billion bailouts. That intervention was hasty, imperfect and never included meaningful help for people losing their homes, but it was absolutely essential.   

The auto bailout ultimately cost the government $9.5 billion, but it saved more than a million jobs, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said.  And the $24.9 billion profit from the sale of the government’s major bank holdings — the last its stake in Ally Financial Inc., the former General Motors financing arm GMAC, that was sold Friday — left the rescues solidly in the black.

Six years removed from the darkest days of the crisis, the economy is growing, the private sector has created million of jobs, Wall Street is booming, property values are on the rise, and GM and Chrysler are both profitable.

There are times when elected officials should represent their constituents by giving them what they want. But there are also times when officials should lead by doing what the nation needs rather than what voters want. Responding to the financial crisis demanded that brand of leadership. We got it from both Bush and Obama, and it paid off.