Thursday, January 5, 2012

Can Democrats Win By Running Against Greed?

Take a look at this spot from

The general idea animating this spot is the same moralistic notion that animates OWS, viz., that the people in the middle and lower strata of the economic pyramid are being victimized by the greed of people in the upper strata. And Mitt Romney’s career in private equity at Bain Capital is Exhibit A. The laid off steel worker featured in the spot makes the point as pithily as it can be made: “Mitt Romney wants to call himself a “job creator”? Mitt Romney doesn’t care about jobs. He cares about money.”

There’s no denying that this laid-off worker cuts a sympathetic figure and that the idea that Romney has something to apologize for still packs some rhetorical punch—if it didn’t, a guy like Newt Gingrich wouldn’t have given voice to it in the heat of a Republican presidential primary campaign. But isn’t this a matter of our surrendering to an anachronistic moral reflex? How many people really believe that Kansas City would still have a thriving steel industry, and the guy in the ad would still have his job, if only guys like Mitt Romney had just been a little less greedy? And how many people, for that matter, really subscribe to the more general proposition that the economy fell off a cliff in 2008 and hasn’t climbed back as fast as we expected because the Mitt Romneys of this world suddenly got greedier?

According to Greg Sargent, however, Democrats are banking on a lot of people buying into these preposterous ideas (my emphasis):
“The battle to define Romney’s Bain years will be epic — as critical an election narrative as the war over the true nature of John Kerry’s Vietnam years was in 2004. If Romney can sucessfully persuade the public that his Bain years have left him with the tools necessary to tinker around under the hood of the economy and get it humming again, it could be very dangerous for Dems. The primary Dem pushback will be to go hard at the true nature of his Bain work and the type of capitalism it embodied, arguing that it was all about profiting off of mass layoffs; that Romney was not a job creator, but a job killer; that he’s the candidate of the one percent.”
It’s one thing for Democrats to say that we’re in bad economic shape in no small part because Republicans are keeping us from enacting good public policy. That’s a promising pitch because it arguably has the incidental benefit of being true. But the idea we’re in bad shape because Republicans and the high-rollers to whom they give aid and comfort are bad people is neither of those things. Indeed, it doesn't even make sense inasmuch as everyone believes that economic recovery depends, among other things, on lots of people being greedy enough to put their capital where it will achieve the highest rate of return.  It's just the sound of Democratic activists stroking themselves.


Anonymous said...

Interesting ad, and I agree, a very sympathetic guy. But I also agree few are going to blame Romney and the Bains of the world for all that has gone wrong with the steel industry in America and for that matter, the automobile industry, etc etc. However, what other possible angle could Obama have against Romney? They are taking their best shot and they are going to run with it, in the hopes that swing state voters will buy it.

Pete said...

I think it's a great ad. I have nothing against private equity. And I'd never argue that Romney's success in that field disqualifies him as a presidential candidate. But the idea that buying companies with borrowed money and flipping them for an obscene profit uniquely qualifies him to be president is just weird. And that's what I take the steelworker to be saying.

Not in the least Anonymous said...

What, precisely, is so hard to understand here?

Mitt Romney has been selling himself as a job creator. Whatever you thing about Bain capital, he's not. He's a net job destroyer. And I think MoveOn is picking up on the Republican's newfound interest in "job creators" to take a couple chunks out of his hide.

Ben Currie said...

I think the line is from Casablanca, Bogart is talking to the Vichy Prefect of Police played by Claude Rains: "you aren't very subtle Louie, but you are effective." This ad goes right to a claim Romney has made the centeroiece of his rationale for office ... it tends to give the lie to Romney's big claim. There's a lot of time left for subtlety. While the GOP has the microphone this kind of push back is a good move for MoveOn --Ben Currie

Anonymous said...

Romney's job at Bain Capital was to work for the benefit of the shareholders. He was not a public servant. Get real.

Not in the least Anonymous said...

He can't have it both ways.

He's traipsing around the country touting himself as a job creator. The fact that that's not, on balance, true, is perfectly fair game for oppo.

Anonymous said...

Agreed that Romney can't have it both ways. But if Romney says in his stump speech that Bain's investments while he was at the helm ended up creating more jobs than were lost, then his opponents and the press will, if they haven't already, test that statement. It is either a fact or it isn't. To argue about it, when there is an objective answer, seems kind of silly.

Now the doesn't have to get anything right. It's just a campaign ad and it can create a misimpression if it wants to. But for intelligent people to say: he's a job destroyer; no he's a job creator; no he's a job destroyer ... This sounds like fifth grade.