With GM Ouster, Suck-Up Steven Rattner Finally Plays Hardball

For more than seven months, GM CEO Rick Wagoner steadfastly resisted calls to step down. Surprising, then, that he was forced out on the watch of shameless gladhander and political suck-up Steven Rattner.

Rattner, a former Times business reporter, used to run Quadrangle Group, an investment firm whose failures included buying Maxim publisher Alpha Media and disappearing two hedge funds (one closed due to investor desertion, the other was lost due to management desertion).

The "hypercareerist" spent a decade trying to finagle a federal appointment before finally becoming Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's lead adviser on auto industry issues, an appointment that let Rattner neatly tuck Quadrangle's still-unfurling failures into his past. (Burying news of his wife's boozing, meanwhile, was apparently a simple matter of calling on old media friends, a circle that includes Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.)

The appointment looked dicey at first: The auto unions quite naturally worried about Rattner's lack of industry experience. Rattner then immediately (one might say recklessly) relinquished much of his leverage over the auto makers by trashing bankruptcy as an option for restructuring them. Rattner and his neophyte team were getting a "crash course" in the industry they were supposed to fix, the Wall Street Journal said.

Now, however, Rattner's crew has managed to bring down some big game in the form of Wagoner. Rattner, a dealmaking favor-trader, finally got tough. And the only help he needed was pressure from the president, the rallying cries of an outspoken senator (Wagoner-hating Chris Dodd) and the promise of tens of billions of dollars in federal aid.

It's going to be a long and painful bailout.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal explicitly confirms this was Rattner's move:

Mr. Wagoner was asked to step down on Friday by Steven Rattner, the investment banker picked last month by the administration to lead the Treasury Department's auto-industry task force. The announcement came from Mr. Rattner's office at the Treasury, according to an administration official. Afterward, Mr. Rattner met one-on-one with [GM #2] Mr. [Fritz] Henderson, who will fill in as GM's CEO.