When President Obama used Mitt Romney’s controversial experience at Bain Capital to question whether Romney has any experience or life lessons relevant to a President’s responsibilities, he hit a chord that resonated among many who view Mitt Romney as little more than a corporate looter, or at best an amoral opportunist whose successful pursuit of profit made him largely indifferent to the social and economic consequences of his schemes and methods.
At the very least, the President was undoubtedly correct to ask whether the skills and motivations one would exhibit as a successful manager of leveraged buyouts are those we want to see in a President. That issue has been hanging over Mitt Romney since his Massachusetts Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy, so its reemergence during the GOP primary debates was totally predictable. The only surprise was how relentlessly enthusiastic and happy Romney’s GOP challengers were to raise it, but this is not Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment Party.
Since Obama made the issue prominent, there has been a concerted effort by the corporate wings of both parties and some in the media to get the President off this message. The reasons aren’t hard to figure out.
The Romney camp, of course, understands that the question Obama is asking, and Romney’s obvious inability to answer it directly — as shown in his interview with Mark Halperin — can completely unravel the bogus claim Romney has been making that his success in business somehow entitles him to be President of the United States. The claim was always preposterous, and it should have been obvious after the world’s financial elites — the people who, like Mitt and now Jamie Dimon, bragged they understood how the economy really works — tanked the financial system, had to be bailed out and nearly destroyed a dozen economies.
But Romney’s team was betting that Americans have been so conditioned after decades of propaganda to believe that what government needed was to operate like a successful business that few would seriously question Romney’s most important claim. Halperin’s interview exposed Mitt as an empty suit. After he posed Obama’s question directly, Romney ducked and switched from his prowess as a looter to his lifetime as a “leader.” Bottom line: Romney can’t defend his central claim.
So his campaign’s diversion since then has been to charge that by talking about Bain, Barack Obama is now attacking capitalism and free enterprise itself. That’s a nice dodge to pretend that what the LBO (leveraged buyout) boys do is somehow the essence of capitalism, but it’s still a dodge: the question, “how does this make you qualified to be President?” is still awaiting an answer.
Because Romney hasn’t or can’t answer it, Obama’s question should be on every honest reporter’s list of things to probe when they interview or write about Mitt Romney. And that’s why, as Rachel Maddow noticed recently, the Romney campaign has been trying to change the subject from what he did as a businessman to what he’d do as a President. It’s safer to talk about a future that hasn’t happened than a past for which there’s a record and even a body count.
But it’s not just the Romney campaign that wants to change the subject. Just as important, corporate Democrats are horrified that they’ve been exposed for the corporate hacks they are; Cory Booker may have destroyed his career, but the party is full of such hacks.
Meanwhile the Dem’s Very Serious pundits are shocked, shocked that Obama — who’s benefited as much as anyone from extracting campaign donations from the looters in exchange for never threatening their carried interest/capital gains tax preferences — would threaten these cash cows when Citizens United is about to unleash a tsunami of Rove-directed cash against any candidate not already bought. Hmm. Seems like an issue the public might want to know more about.
So if you’re an honest reporter, what are you looking at? You’ve got an issue that exposes the gibberish Americans have been fed about how the financial Masters of the Universe deserved to extract your money, be in charge of the economy and still occupy the White House or Congress. You’ve got a corporate looter who’s proven to be indifferent to human suffering, and thus a perfect example of this shameful mentality, running for President. You’ve got an incumbent who quite eloquently frames the right question but then has to send Tim Geithner and Eric Holder in front of the cameras to explain how his Administration has translated Obama’s expressed concern for all of the people and their jobs into measures for bringing the banks and corporate looters to justice and addressing the massive inequality both parties have created at the behest of the looters. And you’ve got both parties squealing that if you pull on this thread, the emperor’s clothes will collapse and scare the kids.
It’s extremely rare that the media emerges from the daily dreck fed to them and stumbles on a genuinely important issue, one that captures so much of what’s wrong and needs to be addressed by the people we elect to act for us. But now we’ve got one and it’s a beaut. Along with whether crazy people will be allowed to tank the economy again, it’s the most important domestic policy issue of our times, and it’s connected to just about everything else worth discussing. All a good reporter has to do is keep pulling on that thread.
So do your jobs, ye good reporters, and we’ll tell our children to avert their eyes.