Under Mitt Romney, Bain Capital — which he co-founded and helped build into a money-making powerhouse — invested in companies that were pioneers in facilitating the practice of outsourcing. After Romney severed his direct managerial control over the company, it broadened an approach originally set in motion by Romney — who retained the title of CEO and chairman for several more years — by investing in companies that broke new ground in helping companies ship jobs overseas.
Anyone have a problem with the above description of what happened?
Ultimately, when you strip away the argument over whether he remained actively involved from 1999-2002 — when some of the more controversial deals took place — that’s what you’re left with. And that description of what happened is itself likely to be enough to damage Romney’s overall case.
As far as I can tell, no one has established evidence that Romney had direct involvement with the controversial deals involving jobs getting shipped overseas. Is Romney partly reponsible for the activities of a company at which he remained listed as CEO and chairman, even if he was not directly involved in running it? That’s ultimately a matter of opinion — the argument over that question is a political one — and as a result, it’s a fair case for Obama to make (and for the Romney camp to dispute). But that aside, it has not been established that Romney was directly involved in offshoring. As a result, as Jonathan Chait notes, the original ads Obama ran accusing Romney himself of offshoring are false.
More recent Obama ads, however, don’t quite make this claim. One recent spot says Romney made “a fortune” in letting jobs go to China, and that “Romney’s firms were pioneers in helping companies outsource their manufacturing to countries including China.” Another recent spot says that “Romney’s companies were pioneers in outsourcing U.S. jobs to low wage countries.” Those are somewhat misleading — the claim about “making a fortune” is unsubsantiated, and the ads imply direct Romney involvement in shipping jobs abroad without quite saying it. But both ad dropped the claim that Romney himself offshored jobs.
Both campaigns have their reasons for getting into a dogfight over the true nature of his connection to Bain after 1999. The Obama campaign wants to tie Romney as directly as possible to the oustourcing deals and to generally portray him as having something to hide. The Romney campaign needs to distance him from those deals, and to muddy up the waters in hopes that people decide the charges are nothing but political attacks.
But ultimately, to get too deep into the argument over those three years is to go down a rabbit hole. The bottom line is this: The set of facts we know now are enough for the Obama campaign to make its argument, which is that Romney’s business background was not as a job creator, but as a pioneer in wealth creation. He built a wealth creating machine that went on to play a key role in facilitating the practice of outsourcing and in shipping American jobs overseas — and by extension, a key role in the larger story of what’s happened to the economy and the American middle class.
It’s fair to ask whether that involvement was defensible, whether the trend was inevitable, and whether it had its upsides — but that is what happened. It’s perfectly fair game to point that out — especially since Romney himself is citing his background as his central qualification for the presidency — and to ask what it tells us about what kind of president he would be. Whether or not Romney personally was involved in sending jobs overseas — for now, he wasn’t — the broader argument over that larger set of facts will be a hard one for Romney to win.