Bain: Makes a Man Take Things Over
Last night, I watched the anti-Romney 30-minute “documentary” from a Gingrich Super PAC, “King of Bain,” and I must say that — save the periodic forays into lowest-common denominator xenophobia — one would think it the product of an ardent Michael Moore fan. As Huffington Post‘s Jason Linkins says, “[I]f you screened this before an Occupy encampment, it would almost certainly draw a thunderous ovation.” If you’ve got even the slightest inclination to brush aside the aggregate benefits of capitalism and look at the system through a moralistic lens, this is propaganda that’ll resonate.
[W]hat makes it so dangerous to Romney, it seems to me, is that the Bain Brahmin didn’t just fire thousands of working class people in restructuring and in closing companies. He made a fucking unimaginable fortune doing it. That’s the issue. Other Republicans can speak about the need for free markets in a sluggish economy. But with Romney, we have a singular example of someone who made a quarter of a billion dollars by firing the white middle and working class in droves in ways that do not seem designed to promote growth or efficiency, but merely to enrich Bain…
I simply cannot imagine a worse narrative for a candidate in this climate; or a politician whose skills are singularly incapable of responding to the story in any persuasive way. This ad is powerful. Romney has already seen a drop in South Carolina. I suspect he’ll drop some more. And I suspect once the potency of this line of attack is absorbed by the GOP establishment, there will be some full, if concealed, panic.
Sully is, of course, in the tank for Obama; and I suppose it’s not unreasonable of someone to shrug off his analysis because of that. There’s definitely a voice in my head that’s advocating a contrarian take on the Bain issue. The political media and blogosphere is so exultantly describing the many ways in which this is Something That Matters and is a Game Changer, it’s hard not to wonder whether or not it’ll end up looking like a tempest in a teapot.
But if you look up there at your browser’s address bar, you’ll note that you’re not at Slate, so I’m going to resist these contrarian impulses and rely on that most sober analyst, Nate Silver. He thinks this is, indeed, something that matters:
Arguments over job creation are going to be central to this year’s general election. It will be harder for Mr. Romney to defend his laissez-faire positions if Democrats can roll out clips of Republican partisans attacking him. Already, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, the former head of the Republican Governors Association, has described Mr. Romney as a “vulture capitalist.” Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, has said that Bain Capital has an “indefensible” business model… Such attacks may seem more credible when made by Mr. Romney’s fellow Republicans rather than by Mr. Obama or one of his surrogates….
What’s unusual about the attacks on Bain Capital is that they might be more compelling to independent voters than to Republican primary voters. Politics ain’t beanbag, and sometimes the front-runner will be attacked by any means necessary, even if it might produce collateral damage. But rarely has there been an attack that had such uncertain potential to harm a candidate in a primary but such clear potential to harm him in the general election.
Silver is right to be wary of the idea that this shot to the gut is going to appreciably help Gingrich. I’d imagine that there are more than a few South Carolinian Republicans who are, whether they’re conscious of it or not, more than willing to find any reasonable excuse they can not to vote for the formerly moderate Mormon. But I think in the aggregate, a lot of GOPers are going to accept Romney’s rhetoric that these attacks are little more than an attempt to “put free enterprise on trial.” As Will Wilkinson noted recently, by and large, loyalty is an important value for people on the political right; and what Newt’s doing here is unquestionably selfish and myopic. (Shock! Newt Gingrich — not a team player!)
But there’s just no way — no way — that that line is going to fly in the general election. Maybe if this were 2000 or any time before 2008’s financial crisis. But it most certainly ain’t, and while the American electorate is quite a distance away from endorsing a candidate who promises to enact the dictatorship of the proletariat, there’s definitely room for a pol to argue — as the Gingrich “documentary” does — that there’s a bad capitalism and a good capitalism. Silly as such a distinction sounds, there’s no doubt that it’s a potent wedge the Democrats can wield in 2012. And if you were trying to find someone to represent this so-called bad capitalism, you couldn’t really do any better than the cold, arrogant, and entitled-seeming Romney.
Overall, what’s going to be most important for the coming Presidential election is whether or not the economy is going in the right direction during the six months or so preceding judgment day. But I’m not a polisci absolutist, and I think these novelistic elements do matter in an election — especially a close one — even if their impact is frequently overstated. What Newt, Perry, and Huntsman have already put to tape cannot be undone; their inevitable walk-backs won’t matter much. You can say you spoke against Mitt Romney before you spoke in favor of Mitt Romney, but the Super PAC ads won’t care much, and neither will the average low-information swing-voter.
All in all, I think the conventional wisdom on this is right: Barack Obama, arguably one of the luckiest politicians in recent American history, has every right to keep feelin’ lucky.