If possible, the Obama campaign’s anti-Bain message is getting less intelligible. Since President Obama’s donors and generally informed people understand that private equity is an essential part of our economy, Obama’s argument has been morphing into something else.
You see, Mitt Romney’s business experience in working in dozens of industries and building wealth is not the right kind of experience because Bain is all about “profits.” The president explained:
[My] view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profits. And that’s a healthy part of the free market. That’s part of the role of a lot of business people. That’s not unique to private equity. And as I think my representatives have said repeatedly, and I will say today, I think there are folks who do good work in that area. And there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs or new industries, but understand that their priority is to maximize profits. And that’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers.
And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business expertise. He is not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He is saying, I’m a business guy and I know how to fix it, and this is his business.
Thunk. Let’s count the ways in which this is nonsensical.
First, as Jim Pethokoukis explained: “President Obama is never more revealing about himself and his economic cosmology than when he talks off-the-cuff about innovation and market capitalism. . . . Profitable companies provide jobs, buy equipment, reduce debt, pay taxes, conduct research, and, yes, provide a return to shareholders. But profits, in Obama’s view, seem to be some sort of necessary evil.” It is rather shocking that no one has taken the president aside to explain this simple concept. You understand how we got Obamacare with a president who thinks profit-making is beside the point.
Hence, the second problem with the president’s formulation: It shows he doesn’t understand what private companies need to do in order to hire more workers. Mitt Romney does understand that profitable companies expand and, oh yes, hire more people. American business is not running a charity; unless the economic circumstances are favorable, employers just aren’t going to hire. Obviously, one of the candidates understands this very well; the other, not so much. Maybe if Obama had ever been responsible for meeting a payroll or navigating in the private sector, he’d have had an easier time and a better record in his term.
Third, Romney isn’t going to be firing people in the private sector; he’s promising to slim down government. To that, most Americans would surely say, “Go for it!” If his expertise is squeezing out costs, looking for inefficiencies and figuring out priorities, that sounds like the perfect preparation for the task ahead, unless you don’t think there is anything more to cut.
Fourth, while it’s self-evident that the private and public sectors are different, it’s not like Romney wasn’t governor for four years or didn’t have other experiences (e.g. Olympics) He sort of gets it, I think, about providing services to the poor, health care (cringing on the right can be seen), dealing with statutory obligations and the like. (I guess his business experience did come in handy in Massachusetts.) Is Obama claiming that Romney isn’t qualified for the job? That would be downright bizarre, especially for a guy who came to the White House with zero executive experience.
Obama is floundering both because his case against Bain is so weak (no one has shown Romney’s claim of net job gains to be false) that informed, honest people can’t defend it, and because, whatever you think of Romney’s policies, we’ve not had a presidential candidate perhaps since Teddy Roosevelt with such a multifaceted background. If Americans want government to be more responsive, cut back on the unaffordable trinkets (high-speed rail), figure out how to do with less (e.g. block-granting) and eliminate the indefensible, don’t voters want a guy who’s going to turn around the federal government? If we want a president who understands when and why businesses are inclined to hire more people, it sure seems like Bain is good preparation.
Never have we seen so clearly the shortcomings in Obama’s record and life experience. Because he imagines the public is beset by the same anti-business prism and by the same lack of familiarity with the economy as he suffers from, he likely thinks this is a winning argument. Romney will need to appeal to Americans’ better and smarter selves to prove his opponent wrong.