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GM regains its legs

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There go President Barack Obama's skimpy-to-nonexistent socialist credentials.

General Motors will take a major step toward reprivatizing itself with a planned new initial public offering that will reduce the U.S. government stake in the company from 61 percent to less than 50 percent, opening the way for the Obama administration to get out altogether.

GM emerged from bankruptcy just over a year ago, having shed debt, health costs, large chunks of a debilitating union contract and several divisions like Saturn and Saab.

And this year the tottering industrial giant returned to profitability. GM isn't out of the financial woods yet, but the numbers are promising.

The company earned $865 million in the first quarter of this year and $1.3 billion in the second quarter, its best showing in six years. In the April-June quarter of 2009, the company lost $1.3 billion. It is now operating at 93 percent of capacity in North America compared to 39 percent in the second quarter of last year.

And GM has repaid $7 billion of the $50.7 billion the government poured into it.

GM also named a new chief officer in advance of the IPO.

CEO Edward Whitacre, 68, brought in by Obama's "car czar" to run the company, will step down as GM president on Sept. 1 and as board chairman at the end of the year. He will be replaced in both jobs by Daniel Akerson, 61, also an Obama appointee to the board.

Neither executive has an automotive background, which in retrospect is perhaps a good thing in that inordinately hidebound industry. Both come out of the telecommunications industry — Whitacre was CEO of AT&T and Akerson led Nextel — and Akerson is currently the managing director of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm.

The timing of GM's IPO is out of Obama's hands. But it's no secret that if the offering — potentially the largest in U.S. history — is a success, it would provide pre-election evidence as vindication for the Obama administration's takeover of the iconic American car company.

Obama was vilified as a big-government socialist for his bailout of GM and Chrysler. But if he had let those companies collapse, taking down thousands and thousands of jobs and the communities they supported and very likely the rest of the U.S. economy with them, he would have been vilified as far worse.