Ivan Fallon and James Srodes: Dream Maker: The Rise and Fall of John Z. Delorean; G. P. Putnam’s Sons; New York.
Elizabeth Drew: Politics and Money: The New Road to Corruption; Macmillan; New York.
Ethics in America, a recent Gallup survey conducted for the Wall Street Journal, finds that business-class marijuana smokers are twice as likely as nonusers to fake illness to avoid work, to overstate their credentials, and to misuse company means for private ends. Gallup makes the necessary disclaimer that his figures are no proof of a casual relationship, “but rather that drug experimentation is a good indicator of permissiveness or perhaps a new morality.” That this is no explanation at all is clear in John Z. DeLorean’s history of dope and bad business—which tells alot more than a Gallup survey. Certainly DeLorean knew that a society which measures morality by survey has no morality at all, and that new morality means relative morality that can be used to justify anything. DeLorean mixed cocaine and a car to come up with a cultural paradox: an ethical dream car. But you can’t drive a paradox, as many Americans discovered. DeLorean’s unethical dream shows us that the issue today is not the difference between right and wrong, but whether, in fact, there is a difference between them.
“Everybody wants the dollar, and they don’t care how they get it!” declares a 68-year-old grandmother in Ethics in America. Her response cuts through the survey’s statistics, profiles, and limp detachment. It sees the meaning of executives who believe the public to be more immoral—a public which believes the opposite—and the shared feeling of executives and the general public that ethical standards have declined. Grandmother knows that you can’t want if you don’t care, that cause is related to effect, that right and wrong are not one in the same—essentially that the ends never justify the means. Burke warns modern liberals when he tells us never to confuse good and the means of good, which is just what intellectuals do when they put the moral cart before the horse. It takes a grandmother’s wisdom to know this. Morality doesn’t come in dream car prototypes or this year’s models, and that is the ultimate point of the DeLorean unethical dream.
Srodes and Fallon were captivated by the life-is-stranger-than-fiction aspects of the DeLorean tale. For them it is a tragic drama, which their publisher calls Greek, but German is what they had in mind. Dream Maker clearly hankers after Faust, but it dishes up soap opera, which is the difference between an impossible dream and an unethical one. DeLorean is at best a tawdry Faustus, and we are still forced to ask: Who is the genuine Mephistopheles? Which is the same thing as asking: Why did he do it? Even in their conclusion, Srodes and Fallon still don’t know. “The missing ingredient,” they write, “is John DeLorean’s character. We will never know why he became the way he is.” But Dream Maker does have an answer, thanks to the inconclusiveness if not the ingenuity of its authors. The DeLorean drama is a lesson on the modern way of evil.
In the first act of Dream Maker, we watch DeLorean—wearing Horatio Alger garb—make it to the general managership of General Motors’ Pontiac Division by the age of 40. This is accomplished with hard work on the Tempest and GTO models, engineering talent, and his close association with GM prince William “Bunkie” Knudsen. But thanks to Srodes and Fallon we also see another DeLorean on the stage. This shadowy figure is involved in doubtful financial dealings about minitheaters, real estate, and auto dealerships. This is the DeLorean who steals the stage in Act Two, which is ushered in with a midlife crisis. He gets a new chin, a new wife, and the chance to spend a lot of time in Hollywood now that he is running chevrolet. He will attend celebrity studded parties, where he got a prevue of his third wife and struck what was later to be his cocaine connection. Still later GM will discover, according to Srodes and Fallon, a host of missing “gift” cars from its California inventory. Much later Johnny Carson will sink some $500,000 into DeLorean Motor Car, whose product he was to represent as advertising symbol and national spokesman.
Act Two has its difficulties for DeLorean, the engineer, in the executive suite. Knudsen leaves for the presidency of Ford, and the 14th floor at GM turns hostile. But DeLorean, the shady financier, is learning how to turn pose into profit, as well as the techniques of cash diversion, and how to buy, sell, and buy back auto patents and the rights to production processes. He also gets a lesson in how to be a socially responsible businessman from liberal activist and journalist William F. Haddad, who is glad to include a chapter by DeLorean, whipped up in the GM publicity works, in a book on the Black economic struggle. Eventually, Haddad will become public relations director for DeLorean Motor Car. Finally, he will call DeLorean a “racist.” Indeed, the total cormption of Haddad is one of the subplots of Dream Maker, and a dirty, low account of greed, fear, and trembling. DeLorean’s media manipulation in the form of leaks of sensitive GM material notwithstanding, he is forced out of Detroit in May 1973, an unwanted prophet, but not yet dishonored. In the same month, he begins his third marriage, to ex-starlet and model Christina, just as the curtain comes down. The intermission is not long.
Only a very small part of the third act has to do with the development of the dream car. DeLorean the engineer is hardly seen, and there are strong indications that the car was never more than a fund-raising device for the man with the gull-wing eyebrows and designer jeans. Ten thousand dollars a month plus expenses went to a public relations firm to promote him—not his car. All the public saw in the August 1975 issue of Automotive News was a glossy of some thing called the DSV—for DeLorean safety vehicle—and a hyped manifesto touting the ethical car which would later be designed, in DeLorean’s words, “specially for horny bachelors.” But Srodes and Fallon go behind the image and detail how DeLorean, the media magician and financier, multiplied himself into at least three domestic corporate entities, and then show us how these turn into five, including the Geneva-based and Panamanian-registered GPO services, and something called TK International, which bears the initials of DeLorean’s attorney and personal financial advisor. Concurrently, we watch how a puffed $350,000 becomes $3.5 million, then $30 million, then $300 million. The man and the money multiply jointly, and not without interconnection. When Srodes and Fallon do their final accounting, $30 million dollars have been siphoned off to nowhere.
Because his ambitions were truly global, DeLorean needed more than a $20 million Oppenheimer and Company-sponsored partnership to mishandle; he needed a national treasury. He found one in the form of the Northern Ireland Development Authority (NIDA). This was unfortunate for Belfast—now it is known as the town that launched both the Titanic and the DMC-12, each supposedly unsinkable. British taxpayers, stuck with a bill in excess of $200 million dollars, will never forget either disaster. DeLorean was no longer interested in the actual creation of his dream car. He gave that job up to Collin Chapman of Britain’s Lotus Group. The English designed· his car; the Irish built his factory; and the two groups never cooperated, which helps explain why the car was astonishingly unsuccessful. The money which NIDA gave DeLorean to build the car went to DeLorean Motor Car; DMC then paid Lotus; Lotus, according to Srodes and Fallon, then paid DeLorean’s GPD. It isn’t clear who got exactly what—but it appears that the car was paid for three times over. There was no division of spoils—only multiplication—DMC took its money and then asked NIDA for more in order to pay Lotus and so on down the chain. The DMC-12 failed because its costs were thrice inflated, and DeLorean’s dream—not his car—was worth $30 million more. “I can’t wait the five or six years it will take for the company to perform,” DeLorean told his financial officer William Stryker, “I want to live now.”
Once DeLorean had taken all he could get from NIDA, he went after Parliament directly. The British were forced to up their ante by means of public relations scenarios delivered by Haddad—the death of Bobby Sands, the IRA at the factory gates, and always the need to create more and more jobs. DMC deliberately hired more hands than it needed in order to increase pressure on the Parliamentary purse. And preferring its bleeding heart more than its bled purse, the Labor government wrote: ”There are people there in their thirties and forties who have never worked in their lives, people with grown-up children who have never seen their fathers do a day’s work. You have to look at those men’s eyes to understand what West Belfast is about. There’s no sparkle there, no hope.” Srodes and Fallon swallow this excuse for the deficits that big welfare government yearns to create, and tell us that “men who had never worked in their lives were enthusiastically seizing the opportunity they thought would never come” at the DMC plant. But later in the same act they write: “There is a long industrial tradition in Northern Ireland, and although many of the new men had never had jobs, some had been mechanics, garage workers, or had worked in the Grundig factory nearby, at the shipyard, or in one of the factories now closed.” All too late the London Financial Times would warn after the British cut their losses: “There is no security in jobs which depend on permanent government subsidy.” Here at the end of Act Three of Dream Maker the audience gets its closest look at DeLorean’s Mephistopheles; the resemblance to Michael Harrington is striking. Once we know who is the real Mephisto—the self-serving spending of big government—the irony of the final act of Dream Maker improves from the ridiculous to the sublime.
Amidst all the questions about who entrapped whom in the cocaine affair, and about secret warnings exchanged between the U.S. and the UK in the days before the bust, there emerges something more significant: the identity of what DeLorean put up for the $3 million seed money falsely extended by U.S. agents to buy the drugs that would gross some $60 million on the street. DeLorean’s ante was 50 percent of DeLorean Motor Car. In other words, the very same big government which had inflated DeLorean was now going to buy him out one more time in order to bust him. More ironic is the fact that DMC seems to have been nothing more than a paper shell at the time; so that if DeLorean had managed to sell himself once more, he would have realized a 2000 percent increase in capital (ca. $300K to $60M) in under ten years.
Dream Maker is certain proof that we no longer want the things that money buys; we simply want more and more money. Money doesn’t just make us rich; instead, being rich makes a new us. A culture which values money as a thing per se, the DeLorean culture, is a culture hung up on images. Money is what makes those images real because it is itself the image of an unlimited freedom of identity that human consciousness turns to with Faustian yearning. Underlying this change in money’s meaning is a change in our understanding of the concept of value itself. If the culture of relative morality, constantly advocating us to “do our own thing,” cues the DeLoreans of this world, the concept of relative value that they are driven to is what destroys them. Mankind can never have enough in a relative universe. This is why wisdom finds in money the root of all evil—not because of money but because of the nature of evil. Money must possess our souls in a culture of relative value; because evil must fill the vacuum created when relative morality destroys ultimate and necessary restraints on human behavior. These restraints define what is human. Inhumanity is the meaning of evil. That is why we ask the Lord to “deliver us from evil”—at least until we begin to think that money is more important than prayer.
Money as more than money, and our desire for more and more of it connect Dream Maker and Elizabeth Drew’s Politics and Money. “What is driving the chase for money is its own momentum,” writes Drew, bent on exposing “the great rivers of private money, much of it untraceable,” that still flow into the electoral process. Politics and Money shows us how Congress plays PAC man, and is certainly useful if only for its detailed reporting of how Political Action Committees work now that the election financing reforms of 1974 have come and largely gone. Drew sees representative government at stake, and there is no disputing her cause. But her method raises doubts which begin with the subtitle: The New Road to Corruption. Dream Maker should have taught us that there can be only one such road just as there is only one oldest profession. Part of the objection here stems from the book’s source, a series of essays originally written for the New Yorker. That most sophisticate of intellectual and liberal journals prefers a pose of extreme innocence in its writers. This not only guarantees their liberal purity, but allows a continuously shocked response to ordinary, daily trnths. Without the shock we might be less than certain about the worldly solutions that the New Yorker expects us to be thankful for. While Drew’s attack on the PAC’s is virtuous, not virtuoso. Politics and Money is clearly a Democratic-leaning book, and Drew’s insistence on business/labor polarity can overlook their taking the same side, as well as the diversity of interest which often divides supposedly homogeneous business interests. Faction, which Madison understood as a democratic guarantee, we are never without.
The book succeeds best when it tells us what the new breed of PAC brokers actually do. The case histories of Thomas Boggs, Robert Strauss, and Anne Wexler at work harvesting, reaping, and sowing are finely tuned to expose self-serving momentum. But Drew needs to tell us a great deal more about Congressmen with their own PAC’s, for it is now commonplace that Congressmen not only take but give to other Congressmen. For example, Representative Henry Waxman, the Hollywood Democrat and liberal fund raiser, gave $24,000 in contributions to the members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; they later elected him to a vital subcommittee chairmanship. Politics and Money is worth reading precisely because it explains that money has made our politics more ideological. The danger is that we will choose too much on the basis of a candidate’s labels, less on his ability to govern. The liberal solution to this problem is explained by Drew. She wants us to redefine what we mean by “freedom of speech” in order to reduce the importance of election finance by means of insured and controlled broadcast access. Drew wants to “uncouple the idea of the ‘marketplace of ideas’ from the id a of the ‘free market,'” but this is to pay far too high a price in Constitutional terms, nor will doing so help us “get back to how the political system was supposed to work.” In·the beginning was the word, not the buck, no matter how eternal it may seem.