In the Arena

Bained

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Evan Vucci / AP

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pauses during a speech to the NAACP annual convention in Houston, Texas, July 11, 2012.

Back in June of 1988, Lee Atwater took me aside and showed me some stuff that Bush the Elder’s campaign had developed against Michael Dukakis, who was then enjoying a 17-point advantage in the polls. The “stuff” seemed laughable. Dukakis hadn’t signed an order requiring schoolchildren in Massachusetts to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He had once said that he was a “card-carrying member of the ACLU.” The most damaging bit was that he’d run a weekend parole program for prisoners, which had been abused by several inmates. (If I remember correctly, Atwater didn’t lay out the sordid details of the Willie Horton case.) In any event, I thought these “issues” were fairly pathetic–and they were. But…

They proved to be devastating. Part of it was the Dukakis campaign’s ineptitude when it came to responding–a consequence that led directly to the establishment of Bill Clinton‘s famed “War Room” in 1992. But more important, this coordinated campaign  “defined” Dukakis as an out-of-touch, soft-on-crime Massachusetts liberal, a prisoner of the “Harvard boutique” etc etc etc. He spent the entire summer on the defensive. I still think the pledge of allegiance stuff was pretty silly–Dukakis had refused to require children to say the pledge in order to honor the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses–but it was a nail in a brilliantly constructed coffin.

(PHOTOS: The Rich History of Mitt Romney)

Fast forward to now. Mitt Romney is experiencing a Dukakis-like summer playing defense. The Obama campaign has also constructed a brilliant coffin, custom-made for a turnaround artist. There are many nails in this coffin, some more important than others. The nails are being hammered in a natural progression. There is a logic to this. The current controversy over whether Romney was or was not running Bain capital during the years 1999-2002 is a relatively minor nail–the functional equivalent of the Pledge of Allegiance. Bain was involved in the global economy during those years. This meant outsourcing jobs to places like Mexico and China, which meant the creative destruction of obsolete jobs here at home. Whether Romney was directing them or not, these activities were perfectly legal. That doesn’t matter, though:  there is confusion about why he was still listed as the boss if he wasn’t really the boss, which seems shifty. And there’s the question of why he was making tons of money if he wasn’t the boss, which is what this is really all about.

Indeed, that’s the Willie Horton argument building against Romney. Democrats were appalled by the Horton ads (the most devastating was produced by an “independent” committee, “unrelated”  to the Bush campaign). They were, allegedly, racist. Horton was black. But they cut to the heart of a significant problem the Democratic Party had at the time: it was sort of soft on crime, in the midst of the post-Vietnam left’s “they’re depraved because they’re deprived” delusion. And Mitt Romney’s Willie Horton? His tax returns. He has only released one–for 2010, with estimates for 2011. Standard operating procedure for 21st century presidential candidates is: you release everything, more or less. And Romney will be plagued by this issue until he does.

And when he does we’re likely to find that he made a lot of money and paid very little taxes. It’s possible that the 14% was his high water mark. It’s possible that there were years when he paid much less. And this will make the Obama campaign’s larger point: the Republicans are defending an economy that has been distorted by financial games-playing over the past 30 years, in which the rich make deals, not products, and pay very little taxes on their curiously-gotten gains. The Republicans will say this is an argument against capitalism. It isn’t. It’s an argument against plutocracy. It isn’t a nuanced argument. (Bain Capital made an awful lot of productive investments, saved a lot of jobs by making companies more efficient. It was a class act in an industry marked by a critical mass of bottom feeders and low-lifes.) But the argument may well prove to be an effective one–especially if Romney continues to behave as Dukakis did, refusing to respond to the larger issues raised by the very well-constructed demolition job that has been visited upon him.

I’ll have more on this in my print column next week.

104 comments
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Andrew Northrop
Andrew Northrop

It's not so much the issue of plutocracy as a form of governing, but who deserves to be and to stay wealthy?  What is fair?  What tax code is just, in the best interest of the country, and in the best interest of each citizen?  And yes, transparency and responsibility matter.

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

I do not think the Democrats should be rejoicing over the fact that Romney has stated that he will release taxes for just two years. Anyone who loves America should be worried about this act.

Romney has been running for office for a while now and he certainly knew that at some point he would be called on to release his taxes so why is he so adamant now??? He is running on his financial acumen so this release of taxes is a key part of his narrative. What is Romney hiding?? He is marketing himself to all of America and to say that he does not want the Democrats to misinterpret his documents is a little disingenuous.  WE, the AMERICAN PUBLIC need to know.  This issue transcends politics and makes Romney look sleazy. Its all sad.

 If  Bain is investigated by the media, Romney cries foul. If his taxes are queried, he says it will be used as ammunition against him. What in the world does this mean???

Does Romney think it is enough to say that he is not Barack Obama? He is interviewing for the highest political position in the world and yet he thinks that he should not be vigorously vetted and investigated. This should concern everyone.

If Romney does not want Bain reviewed and analyzed, does not want his record in Massachusetts vetted, and will not release his taxes, maybe he is running for the wrong office.  This is PUBLIC OFFICE... he is in the domain of the public. As a politician, he has to do everything to be, and appear transparent.

Again, why is Romney hiding his tax returns? He has them. He submitted them to McCain when he was being vetted for Veep. So what is so damning in those documents  that he does not want to share?????  Should we just elect Romney because he says he will be good at the job???  Every American should be concerned by his stone walling on this issue. It is like a bad mob movie.

http://blackrepublicanandmywor...

 

ChowT
ChowT

Something very fishy.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©
ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©

Pierce

http://www.esquire.com/blogs/p...

Uh, no. In fact, holy crap, no. (And what's that "allegedly" doing in

there, by the way? You don't think your old dead pal Atwater didn't pick

a black convict on purpose?) In 1988, whatever else he was doing,

Michael Dukakis was not running on his record as a crime fighter. This

time around, Romney has made as his only qualification for the office he

is seeking his experience running Bain Capital and, to a lesser extent,

the fact that he made the bobsleds run on time. He isn't even running

on his one experience in elective office. That experience — and the

personal wealth he accrued from it — is the only measure by which he is

allowing himself to be judged, and he is simultaneously demanding to be

judged on that measure through incomplete information. This isn't a

campaign. This is a long con.

You're an embarrassing hack, Joe.  You should be happy that the only place the dead tree copy of your shite appears anymore is in dentists' offices.

~

 

BigBuck
BigBuck

Nonsense.  Mitt has been running away from Bain ever since he began to seek the Massachusetts Governorship.   He knows why, and I imagine so does Joe Klein.

Tell me this - if Mitt believes that doing salvage operations on failing companies, and discarding the workers as "non-performing assets" in favor of third-world labor is correct and moral, why doesn't he shout it from the rooftops? 

ChowT
ChowT

SSSssssssssssssssshhhh !

Piqued2
Piqued2

It's a problem for you and your clique of neocons, isn't it  Mr. Klein,   who supported the Iraq invasion .. there's a part of you and your rightwing Morning Joe pals  that wants to be a wee bit progressive but just can't trust the Democrats to wholeheartedly, with fangs bared go to war and beat up on the M.E. in the way you know that Republicans will,  so .... you stand on the sidelines and take a death by a thousand cuts approach to destroying  Pres Obama, along with "I'm severely conservative" Mitt,  who is happy to stand on the sidelines and take nasty, vicious swipes at Pres. Obama and when he's pushed back at, there is even more hell to pay from you neocons.  

Mr. Romney has decided unilaterally that the campaign is to be about  ONLY  "the economy" ... only.

He's on Fox 20 times a week, bashing Pres. Obama with NO pushback, he has the total support of you rich warmongers, but God Forbid if he pushes back and RIGHTLY SO, it is Romney who is prating his economic bona fides and yet you expect Obama not to challenge him  on his constant taunts with honest and logical responses and questions?

You and your rightwing pals will by election time, come up with a thousand ways to try and defend Romney and destroy Obama ... daily here and on Morning Joe especially.

Attempting to lump the unfair and totally dishonest and untrue Swiftboat attacks by Republican rightwing operatives with their smear-polemic , with the Obama campaign's challenging Romney's history as head of Bain, THAT Bain that HE uses as a cudgel against Obama is misleading to the point of deliberate disingenuousness.  

ChowT
ChowT

Mitt romney cant be trusted.

melchiscott
melchiscott

What an amazing column! The essential fact about the Willie Horton story is that it was a lie -- constructed, organized and promulgated by a well-known and well-paid dirty-trickster. Playing games with the facts -- as he himself pointed out later in his life -- was Atwater's job. (And it seems lots of journalists, including Klein, admired him for his skill at that. Go figure.) The Bain story, on the other hand, has grown from actual facts about Mitt Romney's business life -- actual actions, actual statements by Romney, or on his behalf, that raise questions regarding the experience he's offering as part of his qualification to be president. It takes some chutzpah to claim equivalence between what's happening here and Atwater's Willie Horton story or the Swift-Boat Liars for Lying assault on John Kerry. As as to Klein's claim that Bain "was a class act in an industry marked by a critical mass of bottom feeders and low-lifes.": Show us the evidence that supports that contention.

melchiscott
melchiscott

Just to clarify (Never post when your rushed!): I'm not disputing the facts of Horton's crime -- that happened. The dishonesty I'm talking about was the Republicans blaming Dukakis for Horton's release. It was a cheap and ugly tactic and, if I recall correctly, wasn't condemned in the media as much as it should have been.

Samuel Yap
Samuel Yap

Even if Romney was not responsible for the pain in the Bain, because he had no part in the decision making process, still he is to blame for the pain, as CEO of the company. As a management adage puts it, a manager can delegate authority, but not responsibility. As CEO, Romney can delegate all his functions to subordinates, but not the responsibility that his position brings. If he does not take responsibility for the pain in the Bain as CEO, imagine what kind of President he will make with that kind of  mindset in the Oval Office.

ChowT
ChowT

He can blame it on other people.

Ralph
Ralph

And,as GOP Congressman Joe Wilson might say of RINO Willard Mittens Romney,

"RomneyYou Lie!"...What is Willard trying to hide here anyhow? Time Romney

Comes Clean.

RMN31
RMN31

Wow, Bain = Willie Horton?  Joe, I've enjoyed your columns for years but I can't figure this one out.  Bain is the heart of Mitt's campaign.  Willie Horton was about rape and murder.  And as for dirty ads, has anyone remembered the scorched earth job that Mitt did to Gingrich and Santorum in the Republican primaries?

Obama's doing to Mitt what he did to fellow Republicans a few months ago.  It's today's politics, for worse, that we all know, but the Dems are doing what's necessary to win.  Finally.

carlcid
carlcid

Romney can run, but he can't hide. What's Romney hiding in his tax returns? Would Romney prefer to be sacrifced at the altar of public opinion rather than be exposed as a money-laundering tax cheat? Even some Republican Governors and campaign strategists have been chiding Romney to stop whining and just come clean with his tax returns. I am certain that the likes of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who have accused Romney of being a liar, are now feeling extremely vindicated.

Dr Sam
Dr Sam

WHAT IS ROMNEY’S SIGNATURE WORTH?  “NOTHING”, HE SAYS!

ROMNEY'S CORNY TELEVISION OUTREACH FAILS TO ANSWER THE CRITICAL QUESTION: How does some one put his name on the paper as Chief Executive Officer (CEO), President and Chairman of a company and still say I wasn't there; I didn't know what was going on.  I am surprised indeed that Romney would be so adamant in defending the indefensible.  What kind of law did he study?  Does he not realize THAT he has legal responsibility once he puts his name on a paper filing to the SEC as CEO, Chairman and President of a company?  If he cannot, is he as smart as he says he is.  If he would not, is he a leader worthy of our trust.  Romney, the serial liar, is asking us to believe his words over his signature and clear legal responsibility as leader of his company.  How politically convenient!  Too clever by half, most people would say, especially legal analysts.  We ask Mr. Romney again: is your signature on a legal document still worth anything?  This is a character issue indeed.  If you are telling the truth, show us your tax returns for those years in disputes--and this matter will finally be cleared up, including how much tax you paid, the off-shore business and banking affairs and more.  When you have no clothes on, you hide behind the tree with your exposed parts covered with thin leaves.

 

wagedronenumber9
wagedronenumber9

the Republicans are defending an economy that has been distorted by financial games-playing over the past 30 years, in which the rich make deals, not products, and pay very little taxes on their curiously-gotten gains

Yeah, it's weird how they made all this money by selling and reselling debt. 

Bain Capital made an awful lot of productive investments, saved a lot of jobs by making companies more efficient. It was a class act in an industry marked by a critical mass of bottom feeders and low-lifes.

Geez, who was the one in charge who made the ultimate decision to take Bain Capital out of venture capital  and put it into the private equity business?? I'd guess that Bain's sending consultants into the companies made it more classier, but it also made it easier to keep hands on and make sure the investment value keep increasing (or sabotage the company if Bain felt that it wasn't going to perform well enough because being involved with rollups means that you are targeting competition.)

ChowT
ChowT

Gopers, party of the rich, by the rich and for the rich to get richer.

GBrian
GBrian

I'm disappointed that a national publication like Time would publish such a biased interpretation of political events. It seems that Joe Klein is simply an apologist for the Obama administration. Comparing the Romney/Bain controversy with the demise of the Dukasis compaign is quite premature and probably reflects the hopes of democratic party supporters more than it reflects a change in the national sentiment toward Romney's candidacy.

Piqued2
Piqued2

How is comparing the straightforward,  honest, legitimate and in perfect context questions posed to  Romney  about his  time at Baines as a constant boasting point  for how qualified he is to run the nation BASED on his time at Baines, comparable in any way at all to the Republican's Swiftboating of a REAL war hero, John Kerry?

How is this  in any way at all apologizing for the Obama administration?   

Joe Klein says poor little Mittens is being " Swift-Bained" a classic false equivalence   argument. (How many deferments did Mitt receive during the Vietnam war? Four, was it?)

paulejb
paulejb

GBrian,

Can Willie Horton be far behind. By the way, where is Willie Horton? Is a a Democrat legislator in the Massachusetts legislature yet?

paulejb
paulejb

"Poll: Majority want tax cuts for all, even the wealthy"

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/201...

Apparently, most Americans are not buying into Barack Obama's Neo-Marxist BS.

53underscore3
53underscore3

Hm.  McClatchy.  Okaaaay.

I'm glad you were able to tell us that most Gee O Pee'ers want tax cuts for the wealthy.

What else is new?

Paul Dirks
Paul Dirks

To a Conservative anyone who works for a living is an Overpaid Slacker Union Thug®.

paulejb
paulejb

Paul Dirks,

Overpaid Slacker Union Thugs never work for a living. They live off the dues paid by the dupes forced to join the union.

paulejb
paulejb

53_3,

To a liberal, anyone who works for a living is wealthy.

53underscore3
53underscore3

To paulejb, anything that it exists in his head is real.

paulejb
paulejb

"More than 20 People Faint During Obama Speech"

http://www.weeklystandard.com/... 

Are they sure that was 20 different people rather than just Chris Matthews fainting 20 times as he heard Obama speak?

sacredh
sacredh

OK. That made me laugh.

Jane
Jane

The Obama Adm can't run on their record.... so they are witch hunting.......They are so dishonest amp; low.Talk about JOBS.

Talk about the Economy.

Nacho69
Nacho69

How exactly does the inside of Obamas ahole smell like Joe?

Moorneg
Moorneg

For each and everyone not asking for the tax returns even though that's traditional I see crooks and hypocrites.  Show it sooner rather than later for the presidency.

Johnny Vaughan
Johnny Vaughan

A flat out lie given props by "Time".  There was a time when this magazine was respectable.   Now it's no more reputable than the Enquirer or Jerry Springer.  Sad.

Moorneg
Moorneg

Just show the tax returns and end the speculation.

CottageIndustry
CottageIndustry

Too bad Romney can't just get out of it by claiming Executive Privilege like this failed President did.

CottageIndustry
CottageIndustry

 Romney ran Bain AND the Olympics, both with great success!  That's exactly what we need as a President.

Mike Alan
Mike Alan

Amazing how y ou people care so much  about Bain, a company that creates jobs and companies and you have no problem with Obama's friends like Bill Ayers, the rev Wright etc etc. You care that Romney is very wealthy but you dont care that Obama takes your money and gives it to his friends in green energy companies that are losing hundreds of million dollars. You care so much that Romney is a mormon but dont care Obama was a muslim and has a softheart for islam even after they kill hundreds, 2000 in afghanistan alone since Obama became king. You people are sick in the head.

Gregory Pennington
Gregory Pennington

Bain does not create jobs. Never did and never will. Several venture capitalists have come out to say that is not what they do. 

CottageIndustry
CottageIndustry

"Mr. Obama, with over 400,000 jobs lost, a $904.2B deficit and the unemployment rate at 8.2% what is your plan of action?"

"I'm making up lies about Mr. Romney!"

douglas schenk
douglas schenk

Romney started a company called Bain whose mission was to make money for the people who invested in it.  He made them lots of money.  So far all of it appears to have been made legally.  As CEO of Bain his job was not to negotiate favorable trade policies with other countries.  It was just to maximize the wealth of the people who invested in Bain. 

All Romney's experience at Bain demonstrates is that he is good at what he sets out to do. 

If we are looking for someone to blame for outsourcing start with Bill Clinton.  He negotiated and signed the China WTO Ascension Agreement which allows China to manipulate its currency, add large duties and VAT to imports from the US and to require local ownership in companies operating in China.  Under this lopsided agreement the US can do none of these.  While blaming Clinton, you can also blame Bush, Obama and most of congress from both parties as they have sat and watched the jobs leave. 

 

Paul Dirks
Paul Dirks

The selling of America's manufacturing preeminence has most certainly been a bipartisan venture. I've said many times that the only reason we failed to notice the sharp decline in middle class buying power was that we masked it first with easy Credit Card Debt, and then when that became unsustainable, we substituted Home Equity Borrowing......until 2008.

While the two parties point fingers at each other, NO ONE is suggesting that we address the underlying problem. (Here's a hint, it isn't simply a matter of unleashing "job creators")

Michael Stout
Michael Stout

Artfully written. Spot on. The issues won't sink Romney, but his inability to respond to them effectively very well might.

garotadagavea
garotadagavea

"the creative destruction of obsolete jobs here at home" Mr. Klein, when a culture deems HUMAN BEINGS obsolete and and tell them to "eat cake" bad things happen...

C B Cheezem
C B Cheezem

No one said "HUMAN BEINGS" were obsolete.  JOBS become obsolete.  How many stagecoach manufacturers are currently in business?  Know anyone currently employed as a pit sawyer?

How many website designers were there in 1972?  How many computer and software companies were there in 1972?

"Luddite" is the term for your kind of thinking.  Look it up.