* Central question of Campaign 2012: How are jobs created? As I’ve noted here, the argument over inequality and the true nature of Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital foreshadows a larger clash of visions over capitalism itself that will drive the presidential campaign. This morning Josh Boak posts a nice addition to this debate, debunking the idea that private equity work is about “job creation” and explaining that making big money is Job One.
This quote from Dem strategist Simon Rosenberg is crucial to understanding the underpinnings of the larger argument that will unfold this year:
“We are now having a real debate in the country about what it’s going to take to get the economy back on track,” he said. “Voters are going to come out of the [primary] election having to think much more about how jobs are created.”
The election may turn heavily on the conclusion voters reach about this question. At a time of rising skepticism about government’s ability to create jobs, this is not going to be an easy argument for Dems to win, particularly given the easy-to-swallow bromides coming from the other side. If the 2008 campaign showed that Obama is one of the best public communicators of our generation, his skills will face a much tougher test this time around.
* Romney rolls out Bain pushback: With the above in mind, take a look at the new ad the Romney campaign is now running in South Carolina. It represents a retooled response to the attacks on his Bain years, and it focuses heavily on the jobs created at companies restructured on Bain’s watch:
The ad claims Romney only created “thousands of jobs,” which is the latest shift in his campaign’s claims. As Steve Benen noted recently, Romney has zig-zagged wildly back and forth between claiming Bain created “over 100,000 jobs” and claiming it created “tens of thousands”of them.
Second, the new ad airbrushes out of the picture the private equity side of Bain where the company made enormous profits off of restructurings that led to mass layoffs, as his campaign has been doing from the start. The ad deals with this part of the record by claiming that Bain “invested in struggling businesses,” implying that its role was entirely salutary.
And third, the ad again makes the ludicrous claim that raising questions about the Bain years constitutes “putting free markets on trial,” an argument that has been rejected by many leading Republicans. This again puts Romney to the right of the emerging consensus that it’s legitimate to ask whether some forms of capitalism are immoral and destructive.
* America is not a corporation: The key to the above ad is that Romney’s Bain years will work in his favor if Americans buy the idea that the country is effectively a large corporation that simply requires a turnaround whiz to come in and restructure it. But Paul Krugman this morning details all the ways in which America is not a corporation in need of a leveraged buyout.
* Romney didn’t mind government help during Bain years: A good Los Angeles Times scoop: For all Romney’s talk about government hampering private sector economic growth, it turns out one of his prized Bain success stories, an Indiana steel company, enjoyed generous helpings of tax breaks and subsidies enroute to success, which many conservatives deride as “corporate welfare.”
Key footnote: As it happens, this company, Steel Dynamics, is cited in Romney’s ad above.
* Battle over oil pipeline heats up: House Republicans will increase the pressure on the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, with the goal of puting him in a difficult spot heading into an election year that will focus heavily on jobs.
* GOP leadership vows to buck Tea Party: The GOP’s increased focus on the pipeline is partly about undoing the damage it sustained in the disastrous payroll tax cut showdown last year. With another installment in this fight looming, House GOP leaders are vowing not to let the Tea Party caucus set the agenda and trap them in the same dynamic that did them in last time.
* Inequality charts of the day: With Romney saying that we should only discuss inequality in “quiet rooms,” TPM has two terrific charts that tell the larger story of how specific policy choices have exacerbated inequality in this country over the decades.
The campaign will center on whether voters accept the idea that a Romney presidency would represent a return to those choices — whether they accept that government has a role in shoring up the middle class, or whether they buy the argument that getting government out of the way will unleash economic growth and shared prosperity.
* South Carolina voters react to Bain: Good read: The Tampa Bay Times finds some South Carolina voters are souring on Romney over the tale of a Bain investment in Gaffney, South Carolina, which ended in the loss of some 150 jobs while Bain raked in millions.
Though South Carolina is not a good test case for whether this storyline will hurt Romney among the economically struggling swing state voters who will help decide the general election, it will be interest to track whether it depresses enthusiasm for him among blue collar Republicans.
* Newt Super PAC assault on Romney full of falsehoods: In fairness to Romney, Glenn Kessler’s epic fact check of the anti-Bain documentary does demonstrate that it badly misrepresented the four deals that provide the crux of its argument.
However, Kessler adds an important qualifier: “It’s beyond the scope of this column to assess whether the changes in American capitalism brought about by private equity ultimately are good or bad for the American economy.”
* Bain controversy hints at larger truth: Relatedly, Jackie Koszczuk makes a key point about the Bain documentry:
Regardless of whether the film distorts Romney’s record as the chief of Bain Capital in the 1980s and 1990s, its underlying premise hits home: that a frenzy of Gordon Gekko-style corporate mergers and acquisitions at the time fueled huge profits and wealth for a relatively small number of managers and stockholders while hundreds of manufacturing jobs were wiped out.
* And the Brisbane controversy rages on: Glenn Greenwald on the controversy over the Times public editor’s question about whether news reports should include rebuttals of falsehoods: “the equivalent of pondering in a medical journal whether doctors should treat diseases.”