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“Slechter here.” Al Slechter answered the phone at the Ford office in Washington.

“Is Robert Smith there, please?” Smith is Ford’s legislative lobbyist. Slechter is in charge of combating regulations.

“No, he’s up on the Hill.”

“Oh, is there safety legislation pending?”

“No, the Clean Air Act’s in committee. Clean Air act is killing us.”

“I guess between clean air and safety they’re keeping you pretty busy?”

“Damn right,” he said, “and Adams is holding an airbag hearing next Wednesday.” Brock Adams, Carter’s Transportation Secretary, has now reopened what Henry Ford II had hoped was a closed issue—airbags.

However, according to Ford, airbags will add anywhere from $100 to $400 to the cost of every auto. The company argues, probably correctly, that the auto buyers would prefer to pay less and take their chances. But the vehemently anti-airbag Ford wasn’t willing to take its chances with the Department of Transportation even when it was loaded with pro-auto Republicans. So Ford introduced a crafty little system called the ignition interlock. The ignition interlock will not allow a driver to start the car until the front seat passengers are buckled up. The ignition interlock was a sensible compromise. The rationale was that if drivers were forced to use seat belts there would be no need for airbags, which is true enough. In late 1970, Henry Ford II sold Chrysler president Lynn Townsend on the idea and convinced him they could sell it together in Washington.

A Nixon aide set up a meeting between Ford, Chrysler’s Townsend and Nixon to discuss “matters related to the automotive industry.” A few days after the meeting, John Ehrlichman called a meeting with Transportation Secretary John Volpe. After the meeting Volpe was heard to remark “The airbag’s in trouble.” Soon after, Henry Ford II contributed nearly $50,000 toward Nixon’s re-election campaign.

After many of the delays that auto-makers love, on August 15, 1973, Department of Transportation officials finally issued a new regulation requiring ignition interlocks on all new cars. There was now no need for airbags, so they dropped from the picture. During this two-year delay, however, Congress member Louis Wyman (R-N.H.) was preparing an amendment to the Motor Vehicle and School Bus Safety Act of 1974, which said, “Federal safety standards may not require that any vehicles be equipped with a safety belt interlock system.” Some Hill staffers say Ford actually wrote the amendment. With a well-timed push from auto lobbyists, the amendment passed. The airbag and the ignition interlock were now both dead, victims of one of the most brilliantly executed double fixes in the history of lobbying.

Now that airbags are back on the agenda again, keep your eye on Ford.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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