“A Conservative,” that anonymous scribe within Heritage, surfaces again for the second time in three days with a cautionary tale for the Big Three about Henry Ford, FDR and Big Government strings.

This latest edition of New Common Sense, titled “Ford Faced Down FDR’s Blue Eagle,” reads as follows:  

Out of the rubble of the proposed bailout of the Big Three automakers, a phoenix may rise — or is it a blue eagle?

President Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson just might speed $10 billion or more to Detroit regardless of how Congress votes. After all, the government has some of that first $350 billion lying around from its $700 billion taxpayer bailout of the financial markets.

But while General Motors and Chrysler continue to beg for a handout, the other member of the Big Three — Ford — apparently clings ever so slightly to the entrepreneurial spirit of its pioneer: Henry Ford, who resisted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s government encroachment in the 1930s.

During the Great Depression, the National Recovery Act allowed businesses to establish industry-wide “codes” to regulate production, wages, prices and work hours. The NRA was a great boondoggle. In the auto industry, GM and Chrysler gladly signed the “Blue Eagle” code, using government coercion to force competitors to abide by rules they’d set for the market.

Compliant entrepreneurs received a nifty, government-created Blue Eagle logo to show off. Nothing drums up business like being sponsored by the government. But in 1933 that pesky Henry Ford refused to sign, writing:

I do not think that this country is ready to be treated like Russia for a while. There is a lot of the pioneer spirit here yet.”

Unlike rival automakers 75 years ago, who happily invited the government to restrict competition and skewer the consumer, Ford argued the NRA codes were un-American and unconstitutional.

President Roosevelt retaliated with an executive order barring Ford from government contracts. Because Ford could provide a better product at a better price than his government-supported competitors, though, FDR ultimately relented. Ford — and consumers — won the day.

Henry Ford, in insisting Americans weren’t ready to be treated like Russians, had reason to add “for a while.” Now the Big Three have got themselves stuck in the mud, but only Ford is unwilling to resort to New Deal thinking and give the wheel to Uncle Sam. 

— A Conservative