Friday, January 13, 2012

The Bain of Romney's Existence

Mitt Romney in 2007 in Washington, DC at the V...Image via WikipediaIt's hard to predict how the attacks on Mitt Romney's career with Bain & Co./Bain Capital will really play out, especially in South Carolina.

Inside the GOP, the whole thing seems to be bouncing back and forth between "it's vulture capitalism!" and "no, stop being such a commie, it's just capitalism!" with the latter take seemingly ahead.

From the limited research I've done, the attacks are somewhat overblown.

Per Kevin D. Williamson at National Review, Bain hasn't been the recipient of extra-special levels of state privilege, and it was an unforced error on Romney's part to compare the FDIC/PBGC stuff to Government Motors and such. The state privilege it advantaged itself of seems to have been the long-embedded kind available to pretty much any entity with "Inc." its name. While I oppose that kind of privilege, I don't generally condemn any specific company for not eschewing it.

Yes, Bain took over companies, ran them through "management efficiency" routines and did its level best to wring profits out of them, sometimes leading to workforce reductions. But the evidence doesn't suggest that it took the "corporate cannibal" approach -- swoop in, buy cheap, sell off everything that a quick profit can be turned on, shitcan everything else -- as such.

Is Mitt's Bain resume a weakness? Well, it could, and probably should, be. It exposes him as a managerial tweaker type -- maybe even a technocrat -- in a year when pretty much everyone on all points of the political spectrum, from Tea Partier to Occupier, thinks that "the system" needs more than just a tweak.

But who can exploit that weakness? The obvious counter to it is a populist approach, and Romney's Republican rivals (with the exception of Ron Paul) are clearly part of the "power elite" (or at least consiglieri thereunto) themselves. Obama's tried playing the populist card, but it just doesn't work for him. He's a Romney-type tweaker himself, only without real-world proof of his expertise at it.

Which, I think, is why the Bain attacks are hurting Romney but not helping any of his opponents in particular. They don't point the way to a clear alternative (once again, with the exception of Paul, who has problems of his own).

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