Dept. of Class Warfare

05.14.12

The Return of Bain Capital

Whether Romney created or destroyed jobs, should a hedge-fund guy be president?

I get lots of things wrong, as you folks will no doubt eagerly point out as this blog proceeds, so I don't mind saying when I got something right. Sometime fairly soon, I wrote last week, Bain Capital will return as an issue. I didn't know it would be this early, but here we are.

The Obama campaign has launched a two-minute ad that is on YouTube and will run in five swing states and set up a web site called RomneyEconomics.com. Will it work?

It's a little tricky. Obama's own auto bailout czar, Steven Rattner, said on "Morning Joe" this morning that the ad was unfair because it wasn't and isn't Bain Capital's duty to create jobs, but to create wealth for investors (which includes pension funds and educational institutions, i.e., not Wall Street greedheads). However, Rattner also said that Romney "made a mistake" in claiming during the primary that Bain created 100,000 jobs (or any number).

Rattner is correct. It's not Bain's duty to care about whether jobs are created or lost. But a plausible response to that statement is, well, do we want a guy who spent two-plus decades in the private sector not caring about whether he was creating or destroying jobs--but making jillions for himself while doing it--to be the president of the United States? Fair question.

There are lots of Americans who don't want a former community organizer as president. We've heard from them. But there are surely also a lot of Americans who don't want a hedge-fund man as president. As with, say, Obama's unconventional upbrining versus Romney's quite conventional one, the two men represent and symbolize very different Americas.

The Romney campaign is already countering that the actual bankruptcy and layoffs didn't take place until after Romney left Bain. It's a fair point. The Obama camp needs to demonstrate exactly how Romney was responsible. Bain took control of the steel plant in question, the ad says, in 1993. Romney stayed at Bain for another six years. The bankruptcy was filed in 2001.

As I wrote last week, the effort here on Obama's part is to erase the small-ish advantage Romney has in the polls on the question "whom do you trust more to improve the economy?" I suspected the Bain story is going to devolve into one of those he said-he said things, and most undecided voters will shrug and assume that the truth is somewhere in the middle. The auto bailout is a much clearer contrast. Romney just sounds silly when he tries to say that what happened was his idea, which it was except for the part about the federal government loaning the companies billions of dollars, which was, you know, sort of the crucial part to keeping them alive.