Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Behind the Ad: Pro-Obama super PAC joins the attack on Bain Capital

By Richard K. Barry 

(Another installment in our "Behind the Ad" series.)

Who: The pro-Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA. 

Where: Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. 

What's going on: First, the Obama campaign put out an ad accusing Mitt Romney of, according to The New York Times, "being a corporate raider whose private equity firm preyed on weak companies seeking profits, than tossed aside their employees with little regard."

Now a pro-Obama Super PAC, Priorities USA, has a new ad out about Bain Capital, Romney's former company, that echoes those sentiments.

Romney's people argue, as campaign strategist Eric Fernstrohm has said, that "[a]ttacks on how our free enterprise system works have a way of backfiring." And it is true that the primary obligation of private equity firms is to turn a profit for their investors. If that means expanding a business and hiring workers, that may be what they do. If it means laying off workers or shutting down a perfectly serviceable company because it's the easiest way to turn a profit in the short term, they'll do that too.

That's fine. But for Romney to present himself like some kind of Robin Hood, whose main goal in life was to create jobs for people is nonsense. The moment he starting characterizing Bain Capital in that way, he opened himself up to criticism that he really didn't give a shit what happened to workers one way or the other as long as he and his investors got theirs.

I agree with the Times analysis that sees some danger in putting our economic system on trial:

If voters conclude that Mr. Obama's attacks on Mr. Romney amount to an unfair criticism of capitalism, it might boomerang on the president as a political weapon.

Okay. Let people hear everything there is to know about how a company like Bain Capital operates. But don't tell me that these kinds of ads are somehow inappropriate, not while Mitt Romney is out there talking about the 100,000 jobs he created. Maybe Romney wins this argument, but let's have it.

I'm sure there is a way to conduct business so that investors get a fair return on their investment while employees and the communities they inhabit prosper. I am equally sure there are ways to do business in which the investor or their agents extract every last nickel with limited regard for the devastation left behind.

In both cases it's capitalism. I think Americans have a right to know what kind of capitalist Mitt Romney is. I think it makes a great deal of difference. 

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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