In his New York Times op-ed this morning attacking Mitt Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout, Steven Rattner, the lead adviser on Obama’s auto task force, noted in passing a quote from a recent George W. Bush speech. “I’d do it again,” the former president said.

With Mitt Romney giving a speech today in Detroit in which he’s expected to again deride the auto bailout as “crony capitalism,” I thought it would be worth digging up some more of that speech.

Bush, who first got the bailout rolling at the end of his presidency, spoke to the National Automobile Dealers Association in early February. Some highlights:

“I didn’t want there to be 21 percent unemployment...I didn’t want to gamble. I didn’t want history to look back and say, ‘Bush could have done something but chose not to do it.’ And so I said, ‘no depression.’”...

Bush told dealers he still believes in the free market.

“If you make a bad decision in business, you ought to pay,” he said. “The problem is, sometimes circumstances get in the way of philosophy.”

Bush’s position on the bailout, of course, is now anathema to many on the right, as is Bush’s position on TARP and other matters. But that’s exactly the point. As Mark Murray noted yesterday, the surprising amount of criticism being directed at Bush by the GOP candidates “reflects how much more conservative the Republican Party has become.”

Indeed, nowhere is this truer than in the case of the auto-bailout. The perceived imperatives of the GOP primary require that this obvious success story — this clear-cut example of government intervention staving off a massive economic disaster and saving thousands of American jobs — must be explained away by any means necessary.

The last Republican president — one who was in office less than four years ago — says that if government had failed to bail out the auto-makers, it would have led to “21 percent unemployment” and a “depression.” But today’s GOP candidates just don’t want to hear it.