Monday, January 09, 2012

The Bain of Romney

First things first. Criticizing the way a politician ran a company at a time when he is running for office on that record isn't radical leftism, it's Politics 101. Unless any of Romney's rivals have called for him to have to pay higher taxes or be closely regulated by the government, then they have nothing in common with Occupy Wall Street and suggesting otherwise is a talking point that doesn't hold up.

Romney was the one who brought in his record as a job creator. It's entirely legitimate for his opponents to  question whether he really created jobs or destroyed them. Asking whether a candidate's record holds up isn't class warfare, it's common sense. And it's ridiculous that some of the same figures who turned Gingrich's personal spending into a campaign issue are suddenly insisting that Romney's time at Bain Capital is off limits.

A commitment to free enterprise does not mean supporting anything that any company does. It only means supporting their right to do it. Just as a commitment to free speech does not mean agreeing with everything that everyone says. It means supporting their right to say it. Believing that the total effect of free enterprise is better than any other system does not mean that individual companies are protected from criticism. There is a basic difference between criticizing how a company goes does business and calling for it to be regulated by the government.

That means Romney is free to create a company that runs euthanasia clinics in Bangkok, but when he runs for office, then the net social benefits of Bangkok Euthanasia R'Us will come up, especially if he brings it up himself. So if a company outsources jobs to China or sells drum kits to hyperactive four year olds, draping the flag of free enterprise over it does not mean that its CEO is immune from criticism. Free enterprise means the right to do something. It is not an innate endorsement of any and every business practice. It is certainly not immunity from having the net social benefits of those practices questioned especially when you're using those same net social benefits as a talking point.

Not that Romney sold drum kits to four year olds or euthanized anyone in Bangkok. What he did or didn't do at Bain Capital is the subject of some debate and has been ever since he ran against Ted Kennedy for the Senate back in the nineties. And the only truly noteworthy thing about his record with Bain Capital is how clumsily he has used it and defended it over the years.

Back in the nineties Romney was boasting that he had created 10,000 jobs and was running as the Jobs Candidate in Massachusetts. The number is now up to 100,000 and he's still running on the same platform. While that numbers creep might seem like Romney's jobs have some resemblance to Pinocchio's nose, the inflation comes about mostly because of the growing success of Staples, long after Romney had left the scene.

Can Romney take credit for the growth of Staples all through the years? He can if he makes the case that his backing and policies helped the company become what it is today. And that's the case he really should be making instead of wrapping himself in the flag of capitalism.

But Romney blew it back then retreating from the 10,000 number and he's wavering on the 100,000 number. During the Senate race the Bain association resulted in withering ads featuring striking and laid off workers that helped cost Romney the election. That same playbook is on the table at the White House and when it's played out then Gingrich and Perry riffing on Romney's record will seem like a warm soft hug.

Eighteen years down the line you would expect that Romney had honed his talking points and could at least solidly back up his numbers and his experience, instead of sounding like Obama talking about all the jobs he saved. Instead he managed to contribute another sound bite that will be showing up in every ad this election.

It's not the first time that Romney has screwed up this way. When pushed he has a tendency to say the wrong thing through a sudden outburst of honesty, whether it's "We can't have illegals around here, I'm running for office" to "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."

It's the Kerry disease, and between his French, his flip flopping and his hair, Romney seems to have his own "I was for it before I was against it" problem. He compensates for his musical chairs politics by suddenly telling everyone how he really feels in the worst way possible. For now Romney hasn't generated his own, "I was for it before I was against it" quote, but the way he's going it's only a matter of time.

The issue isn't class warfare, it's tone deafness. There are plenty of billionaires who have or manage to fake the common touch. Romney has trouble even faking it and when he tries to it's awkward and horrible. The American people don't hate the rich, but they do hate obvious pandering. When you're worth somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter billion dollars and your father was a CEO, then telling a crowd of people that you know what it's like to be afraid of losing your job is pandering. And it's weak bad pandering.

Romney doesn't need to convince everyone that he feels their pain. That's not something he can do and it's not what voters are all that interested in. They have had their fill of empathy and they just want someone competent at the helm who will fix things. All he really needs to do is sell himself as competent and back it up with a few slogans. But the way he has mishandled the Bain Capital question shows the same tin-eared approach all over again.

The easiest response to being accused of firing people is to ask how many people Perry and Gingrich have let go over the years in the public and private sector. The most comprehensive response would be a defense of his time at Bain Capital that dwells on the actual numbers and the opportunities. The best defense against being accused of profiting off failure is to show how you have actually helped people succeed.

Romney is back to being accused of putting "People Over Profits" as when he was running against Old Bad Ted. In the nineties he blew a lead over Kennedy and tanked the election because he was slow to protect his image. Romney's people still excel at negative attacks, but they're absolutely terrible when it comes to protecting their candidate.

Trotting out robotic talking points about capitalism is not doing Romney any favors. Within the party structure it is possible to take certain topics off limits through intimidation and ridicule, but in the general election, outside the party's echo chamber, those defenses won't work. If Romney can't take on Perry and Gingrich on the topic and win without conservative pundits taking Bain Capital off the agenda, then how is he going to stand up to Obama?

Wrapping Romney up in a capitalism blanket and hissing that all the mean men attacking him are dirty Marxists is not only eye-rolling silliness, it's also a concession that he can't fight his own battles or defend his own record. Taking an issue off the table in a campaign where just about everything has been on the table is an admission of weakness that will not protect him in the general election.

This isn't about class warfare, Marxism or Socialism. Romney, Gingrich and Perry are not poor men. This is about whether Romney can turn his record into an asset or will be stuck limping around with it attached to him like a chain. If he can't defend the productive and constructive value of his work at Bain Capital now and win over voters, then what hope does he have of doing it in the general election?

Plenty of time has passed since his last devastating collision with Bain Capital political attacks and they won't lose him the general election. They probably won't even hurt him that much. Not unless he lets them. But it's interesting to take a look back at the first collision between Gingrich and Romney. Back then Gingrich was trying to cut funding for the AmeriCorps beast, while Romney teamed up with Clinton to condemn any cuts by Congressional Republicans to the program.

Since then Gingrich, for all his deviations, has tried to be a culture warrior, while Romney has done his best to be all things to all people. The man who ran for the Senate in Massachusetts as being better for gay rights then Ted Kennedy and disavowed Reagan/Bush, reinvented himself as a conservative national candidate. A man who was for abortion before he was against it, who has been consistently inconsistent on global warming, on gun control and just about everything else needs some kind of identity. Something to tell us who he is.

Romney's biggest appeal and challenge is that he is a blank slate. Talking seriously and directly about Bain could change that. He did it before in this Harvard Crimson article from 1994. "Romney then returned in 1989 to the financially-strapped Bain & Co. to engineer its massive restructuring. While rebuilding Bain, Romney said he would resign if he laid anyone off. Now, five years later in his campaign against Kennedy, Romney uses his pledge as an example of job-making skills."

But the article also warned that Romney had a tendency to coast on an early lead, instead of pushing hard to  win. That is what brought down his Senate bid and his last presidential bid. Whether it will take him down before or after the election is up to him. If Romney can't successfully defend and rebut a simple attack that he has been dealing with since 1994 with any more grace and intelligence then he has shown so far then he is not electable and he does not deserve to be the nominee.

Romney has been taking the Bain Capital test for eighteen years. If he can't score with that much preparation time and put some passion into an explanation of what he did at Bain and what he believes he can do for America, then there is no reason to believe that he can win.


Paul said...

I'm not following this issue at all and so for me it is a report. Thanks, it is highly readable, intelligent and informative all at the same time.

"Lemon" said...

There isn't one Republican candidate without some serious problems.
The field on both sides, Dem and Rep. is just awful.
It will boil down to voting for the least offensive of the bunch and that will be hard to gauge.

Keli Ata said...

You are so right Lemon. I couldn't agree more.

To choose the lesser of several evils we need to weigh the pros and cons. Articles such as this truly do help me.

"It's the Kerry disease, and between his French, his flip flopping and his hair, Romney seems to have his own "I was for it before I was against it" problem. He compensates for his musical chairs politics by suddenly telling everyone how he really feels in the worst way possible. For now Romney hasn't generated his own, "I was for it before I was against it" quote, but the way he's going it's only a matter of time."

For the non-politician there is nothing wrong with saying I was wrong, but I can't think of a single politician who will admit that they were wrong. They seem to think there is something dangerous about admitting they were wrong.

It probably does make them feel vulnerable because when you admit you were wrong the inevitable action people expect is for the person to do the right thing.

I agree with you 100-percent Daniel re the pandering and Romney's fake empathy for people who have lost or risk losing their jobs. Mr. Silver Spoon's recitation of America the Beautiful made me sick, especially compared to Rick Santorum's comments about his father working in a coal mine.

He just doesn't get it.

I had this discussion a few years ago about the difference between being a politician and a public servant. He considered himself the later and has now become a politician whom I now have zero respect for.

Edward Cline said...

A friend in the U.K. asked me for my appraisal of the campaign here. This was my reply this morning:

"The Republicans I'd vote for are not candidates: John Bolton and Alan West. There are no other Republicans currently duking it out in the primaries that I'd vote for. Gingrich, Perry and Santorum are "social conservatives" and clones of the Bushes, that is, religious conservatives. Santorum has called Sharia law "evil," but he and Gingrich regard Islam as a rival faith, that's all. It explains their passionate condemnation of it. They're beholden to evangelicals and fundamentalists and that's their appeal. Gingrich and Santorum would try to insinuate Christian ethics into government (although that's already there, the altruist ethic is the foundation of the welfare state, they just don't agree that it should be "secular"). Ron Paul says the right things about fiscal policies but that's from a strictly libertarian playbook; his foreign policy is out to lunch, and I've always wondered by Obama just didn't appoint him Secretary of Non-Defense.

Paul's biggest danger is that he might siphon off enough votes in November that would give Obama a second term, which would be the end of the U.S. I suspect the SOB knows it. Romney is the gray flannel suit candidate, an establishment conservative whose biggest liability is Massachusetts-Care, a precursor of ObamaCare. He's shifty and waits until he and his advisers see what bothers voters the most and then pronounces a position on the issue. He's a follower, not a "leader." He's much like that nonentity "Head of State" in Atlas Shrugged, Mr. Thompson. He's not an ideologue; he just "goes with the flow."

There are no viable alternatives on the political scene here. I wish I could report otherwise, but that's the situation here. It's frightening. Yaron Brook remarked that come November, just to get Obama out of office, one may need to vote holding one's nose. But frankly I don't think I could pinch mine hard enough. Think being between rocks and hard places.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

It is sad that the leading choices for the Republican Party are two men who believe in global warming, one who flatters Islam, another who blames America for terrorism, a third who doesn't believe in budget cuts

Keliata said...

And to think I actually liked Romney in 2008.

I might abstain from votin in 2012.

careyrowland said...

Our nation is at a crossroads now. Either we will move further n the direction of controlled, statist economy, or we may elect a leader who is strong enough to us back to a free market economy.
Isn't the regimen through which Bain has improved faltering companies exactly what needs to be done to the federal government?
Perhaps Mr. Romney's defensibilty is stronger than he is being credit for. Maybe we need a President who knows how to make informed decisions about which fats to trim and which leans to retain.
Redundancy is a drag on productivity in both the private and the public sector. We just may need a President who can handle these hard choices without caving to the bureaucracy. Mr Romney is, among all his contenders, uniquely qualified to perform this necessary, though unpleasant role.

John K said...

"then there is no reason to believe that he can win."

That's why the media is attacking all of Romney's challengers. They want Romney because they think that's how Obama will win.

Keliata, no matter who wins the nomination, we cannot afford the luxury of not voting. If someone is hurt in a serious auto accident, it would be best to have a fully equipped EMT ambulance first on the scene, but a donkey-pulled cart will do if that's the only way you can get to the hospital.

sablegsd said...

mittens romneycare CANNOT win against comrade downgrade.

He is NOT the most electable. He has been running for office for how many years? And he won one time. Yeah, he's a shoo in./s

And frankly, no one likes him. He' a phony, plastic, privileged dork.

Andy Texan said...

O is a loathsome troll and even Nor Luap smells sweet in comparison.

Anonymous said...

The core problem is that Mitt Romney believes in nothing but -

1) Becoming President of the United States and

2) Endless bailouts of TBTF Wall Street banks, at least until they finally succeed in bankrupting the nation aka Iceland.

In that regard he IS the white Obama. And a prime reason why 75% of Republicans are in the "Anyone But Romney or Obama camp".

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