Whitman believes the loans Detroit is seeking "will definitely make a difference" in assuring the companies' near-term survival. "Will it underpin ultimate viability? That we'll have to see."
Much will depend on the course of the continuing recession-and on what her successors in Washington do next. Whitman respects Christina Romer, the Berkeley economist who will chair Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, but doesn't envy her dilemma.
At the recent Group of Thirty meeting, Whitman says, speaker after speaker described "a kind of a hundred-and-eighty-degree discrepancy, from many perspectives, about what is required in the short run and what is required for the long run. For the short run, we need the consumers to keep on spending; for the long run, we know Americans need to save more. For the short run, it is clear that there has to be ample liquidity provided by the Fed to help get us through this; for the longer run, there is some concern that if there is too much liquidity floating around in the world, you could get inflationary pressures. We know the government has to spend on both bailouts and on job creation, and yet for the long run, we know we have to get a handle on the government debt.
"So no matter where you look, there's this contradiction. To do what has to be done now, and then somehow make the transition a hundred and eighty degrees to what is required for the long run, can't be easy for any mortal, or any group of mortals."