Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bain and the Political Street Fight

Politico Arena Topic: Should Democrats Stop Bain Capital Attacks?

“They apparently looted the companies, left people unemployed and walked off with millions of dollars. Look, I’m for capitalism, I’m for people who go in to save a company... if somebody comes in takes all the money out of your company, and then leaves you bankrupt while they go off with millions, that’s not traditional capitalism.” Those were not the words of President Barack Obama but rather Newt Gingrich, one of Mitt Romney’s chief rivals for the GOP nomination, just four months ago. Bain was a major target during the Republican Primary season. So what has changed? Absolutely nothing except that some Democrats are getting squeamish about attacking Romney’s one supposed advantage in the election—his business experience—for fear of angering Wall Street and Corporate America. Here’s a news flash Democrats: they already don’t like you nor trust you, just check the campaign finance records.

The Obama campaign is exactly right to take on Romney’s business credentials by delving into the world of Bain Capital and private equity. After all, Romney touts his business acumen at every campaign stop. And the Obama campaign appears to be on the correct side of public opinion on the issue of wealth in general. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released today, 56% of Americans agreed that “unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy” was a “bigger problem in this country” compared to 34% who felt “over-regulation of the free market” was a more important problem.

Finally, the notion that it is somehow unfair to examine a candidate’s past record is laughable. After all, a campaign should be about the issues and record/experience that each candidate brings to the table. In 2008 (as will be the case in 2012), the Republican Party and McCain campaign had little hesitation inspecting every vote Barack Obama cast and every public utterance he made as a U.S. Senator or Illinois legislator. Obama’s life as a community organizer and even as a student also came under great public examination. Even Sarah Palin, who took so much issue recently with scrutiny of Bain, did not hesitate as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate to accuse Obama of “palling around with terrorists” and other attacks perceived as way out of bounds and simply not true. If the Obama campaign were to give-in to the criticism and relax its investigation of Romney’s record as a venture capitalist, it would be unilaterally disarming.

It is common practice for campaigns to cry foul and argue that attacks by the other side are unfair. The Obama campaign will certainly do the same. However, a presidential campaign is not a high-minded game of chess played over wine and finger-food but rather a street fight fought in a dark alley with sharp implements for the most important office in the land. And just about anything, from Swiss bank accounts to birth certificates, is fair game.

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