Yesterday, at a speech in Youngstown, Ohio, Vice President Joe Biden continued the story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital. As I've said before, I think the Obama campaign has this story plotted out to have a beginning, middle and then crescendo in late October.
The Obama campaign hopes Romney takes the bait and begins to use his time to defend this investment or that investment. There's nothing the campaign would like better than to have the race be a referendum on what voters think about a dueling set of corporate financial plays, buyouts and mergers and acquisitions. There is a big difference between talking about specific ventures and talking about the economy.
Also, the Obama story on Bain doesn't even start from an honest place, so to wade into it would instantly put Romney at a disadvantage.
The Bain story speaks for itself. By any measure, it has been very successful and continues to have a long, prosperous life. In the private equity world, that only means one thing. It has provided enough consistent returns for investors, including individual family savings and retirement accounts, and Bain has been rewarded with more and more of people's hard-earned pay to invest.
But again, the campaign can't be about private equity. Romney has to talk about private investment — something Biden, President Obama and almost no one in the Obama Cabinet know much about or have ever had anything to do with.
Anyway, the speech is finely carved to present the worst case possible about a steel venture that went bad. But the most jaw-dropping thing in the speech was either boldly shameless or overlooked by the Obama campaign. Biden said, "And when someone says, it's going to get better, well, you've heard that before." In this case, he wasn't talking about the pledges he and Obama made before and continue to make about the economy — he was talking about one narrow business investment. But the quote unwittingly brings back to life another, more infamous quote that voters will be seeing over and over between now and November, in which Obama, in speaking about the broader American economy, said, "If I don't have this done in three years, then this is going to be a one-term proposition."
In a campaign, you have to play with the hand you've been dealt. Obama has presided over an economy that is strangling the life out of much of the American private sector. Yet he hopes to lay a trap that Romney will walk into by defending the very successful Bain Capital. There's no possibility that a company like Bain will ever become a sympathetic figure, because it can't defend itself and there wouldn't be much appetite for people to hear about individual deals, corporate returns, after-tax dividends and value creation.
But the discussion about Romney's business past is here to stay. Obama doesn't have much else to talk about that can so easily be parsed and mischaracterized — if you're not burdened by the need to tell the whole truth and if you're willing to deny the obvious about the successes Romney and Bain have delivered for thousands of the employees of their portfolio of companies and their direct investors. The voters are in for a long, steady dose of anti-business and anti-investment ideology cloaked by references to unrepresentative ventures that don't even tell half the story.