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Help the U.S. auto industry by buying an American car and encouraging others to do the same.

The U.S. automotive industry is in trouble. Half a century ago, General Motors was the biggest company in the United States. Today, GM and the other two stanchions of Detroit's Big Three automakers—Ford and DaimlerChrysler—are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. While Congress debates whether to rescue the car giants, Americans continue to send their money overseas. Last year, U.S. auto makers' share of the domestic market fell below 50 percent for the first time in history.

This is an urgent plea for you, the consumer, to buy an American car. Since World War II, the United States has gone from being the world's largest creditor nation to its largest debtor nation. Today the amount of U.S. Treasury securities in the hands of foreign governments—nearly $3 trillion—eclipses the entire federal budget. Congress alone cannot bail us out of this mess. We need to buy more of our own vehicles.

At the center of this crisis is the nation's eleventh largest city, Detroit, Michigan. The Motor City has given us the antiwar activism of Tom Hayden, the architecture of Eero Saarinen, the cinematic visionary Francis Ford Coppola, and too many artists to name, among them Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Madonna, Eminem, and the White Stripes. Keep in mind the recording label Motown takes its name from the words "motor" and "town."

Yet the collapse of the Big Three would have devastating consequences for all of us. One of every 10 Americans works in a service directly related to the U.S. auto industry: suppliers, retailers, even hot dog vendors. They live in every state. The domestic auto industry is also the largest buyer of U.S. steel, iron, plastics, rubber, and computer chips. Workers in all of these industries would suffer if the car giants fail. After Sept. 11, Americans rallied past a direct hit on our economy. We can do it again, but it will require a greater sacrifice on everyone's part.

Above all, however, we must respect others' freedom of choice. Much as I would love to see a car made on our shores in every American driveway, I do not want people taking sledgehammers to Japanese cars as in the recession of 1992. We can best show our leadership through the personal examples we set, and not by vilifying those who choose differently. When we turn on each other, we become a nation divided, and that may be the greatest loss of all.

So love your neighbor. Love yourself. And please, buy American.

1. Buy a vehicle from one of the Big Three automakers (GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler).

2. Urge your family and friends to buy American cars.

3. Respect those who do otherwise.