Mitt Romney and Bain Capital: destroyer of jobs, destroyer of lives
*** Must-see video below. ***
It hardly matters whether Mitt Romney likes to fire people or not. What matters is his record. What matters is what he did at Bain Capital. And what he would try to do if elected president.
After all this time, with Romney not just the frontrunner but the likely GOP presidential nominee, his weakness appears not to be Romneycare, his health reforms in Massachusetts, but his work at Bain, where he made a lot of money, millions upon millions upon millions, buying up companies and tearing them down for profit, putting a lot of people out of work and destroying a lot of lives. As Politico explains:
Forget his specific rivals. The biggest threat to Mitt Romney is hitting now and set to fully detonate in South Carolina: It's the Bain bomb.
While conservatives look unlikely to unite around one alternative to Romney, the campaigns themselves are uniting around the theme that the former head of Bain Capital looted companies, tossed people out of jobs and is now exaggerating his success at the venture capital firm.
In other words, he was (and is) a capitalist -- profiting on the dark side of capitalism (capitalism not always being the fun and games its ardent and usually delusional right-wing adherents make it out to be). But what's crazy, given Republicans' general enthusiasm for capitalism, is that Romney's rivals (most of them now mere also-rans) are using his work at Bain, that is, his capitalism, to try to knock him off his perch. This includes, strangely enough, Newt Gingrich, never one to pass up a chance to make a buck, though perhaps nothing is strange in the shameless pursuit of votes, and Newt certainly has a long history of hypocrisy. As the Times reports:
Thanks to a $5 million donation from a wealthy casino owner, a group supporting Newt Gingrich plans to place advertisements in South Carolina this week attacking Mitt Romney as a predatory capitalist who destroyed jobs and communities, a full-scale Republican assault on Mr. Romney's business background.
The advertisements, a counterpunch to a campaign waged against Mr. Gingrich by a group backing Mr. Romney, will be built on excerpts from a scathing movie about Bain Capital, the private equity firm Mr. Romney once ran. The movie, financed by a Republican operative opposed to Mr. Romney, includes emotional interviews with people who lost jobs at companies that Bain bought and later sold.
Note: a movie "financed by a Republican." You can watch the preview below.
Jon Chait writes that Gingrich is swift-boating Romney. That's not the right word for it. The swift-boating of John Kerry was based on lies, whereas these attacks on Romney, while certainly lacking nuance, are based on Romney's record.
Otherwise, though, Chait is right: "Newt Gingrich's new message assailing Mitt Romney is a remarkable breach of protocol" in that it violates the informal rule that "the closer a candidate gets to wrapping up the nomination, the more gentle his opponents must be in assailing him." In this case, the reverse is true: the closer Romney is getting to the nomination, the more vicious the attacks are getting (assuming that Newt actually follows through on this). We've been waiting for the anti-Romneys to turn their fire on Romney instead of each other. That now appears to be happening. And the damage to Romney could be enormous:
Politically, the ads are devastating to Romney, whose message against Obama is that he is a "job creator" who understands the private economy. The message of the ads is that his private-sector experience consists of looting companies and destroying the livelihoods of working-class people. The victims testifying in his ads are the working-class people who have suffered economic stagnation over the last three decades that was accelerated by the revolutionary changes to the economy of which Romney was at the forefront. (If you haven't already done so, read Ben Wallace-Wells's story on Romney, Bain, and the transformation of the economy.)
The political effect of these ads is to turn Romney's chief selling point into a liability – his private-sector experience becomes an indicator not that he will fix the economy but that he will help the already-rich. It's a smash-you-over-the-head blunt message, with ominous music and storybook dialogue. At one point, the narrator says of Bain's executives, "their greed was only matched by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits."
Chait also makes the case that Romney was just being a capitalist -- for worse, not for better:
He was in the business of creating wealth, not jobs. Capitalism increases a society's standard of living, but it does not increase its rate of employment...
Since we want to increase our standard of living, we want capitalism. That wealth benefits the whole society over the long run, but in the short run it can destroy lives and communities — which, of course, is one justification for the role of government in siphoning off a portion of the limitless wealth generated by the Mitt Romneys of the world in order to alleviate social dislocation. But the thrust of Romney's platform is that people like himself give too much already, and those left behind get too much. His self-presentation as a "job creator" is an attempt to paint over that ugly reality.
The huge wealth Romney created was for himself and others like him, not society. (And I'm not so sure that capitalism always creates wealth and always "benefits the whole society over the long run. It really depends what sort of capitalism is in place.) What's remarkable, though, is that it is Republicans who are now making the case that he wasn't a good capitalist:
Gingrich's assault relies on drawing a distinction between real capitalism and the "looting" undertaken by Bain Capital... The distinction is utterly ephemeral. It's a way of saying you'd like all the nice aspects of capitalism without the nasty ones – creating new firms and products without liquidating old ones.
I tend to agree with this. Such "looting," like it or not, is an essential part of the capitalist way. And Newt and others making the anti-Romney case with him are driving a wedge into the hyper-capitalist Republican Party.
Generally, a party of plutocracy like the GOP -- one that pushes for tax cuts for the wealthy, spending cuts to programs for everyone else, and the cruelty and brutality of free market absolutism -- would be happy with a multi-millionaire looter like Romney, but these times are weird. Now even Newt Gingrich is making sense and appearing to want to constrain capitalism with social justice (even if it's just a last-ditch effort to turn the tables on Romney).
Gingrich is hardly endearing himself to Republicans with this line of attack, but there's certainly a constituency even on the right that's receptive to such anti-elitism. It won't be enough to stop Romney in the primaries, but it will certainly help Democrats make the case against Romney in the general election campaign. Bloodthirsty capitalist looters, after all, generally don't go over all that well beyond the confines of the GOP, particularly at this time of economic uncertainty.