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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Bain of the GOP's Existence

The next time someone tells you, "I'm a capitalist," go ahead and answer, "No, you're not." You'd just be playing the odds. A capitalist is defined as "A wealthy person who uses money to invest in trade and industry for profit in accordance with the principles of capitalism." In other words, probably not you or the person you're talking to. "Capitalist" is synonymous with "financier."

Also, notice the term "job creation" isn't anywhere in the definition. People don't invest to create jobs, they invest to make money. In fact, whether any jobs are created by the investment is entirely beside the point. In many cases, jobs are lost. The people Republicans hold up as the high-minded "job creators" not only aren't interested in creating jobs, but they'd really rather not. When you're maximizing profits, you want as few employees as possible. After all, you're in the business of writing your own paycheck, not someone else's.

When it comes to what Republicans call "job creation," they'd rather you didn't see how the sausage is made. Because when you get right down to it, it looks pretty heartless. If hiring someone means you'll make money, you'll hire someone -- and if firing someone means you'll make money, they're out. The "job creators" have been doing one helluva lot more firing than hiring lately, which makes the GOP's favored term for capitalists a lie. After all, one would assume that a "job creator" actually would get around to creating some jobs. Lately, they've been acting as "job destroyers."

Which brings us to a guy named Willard "Mitt" Romney, son of wealth, former vulture capitalist and professional job destroyer. Remember the villain in all those movies -- you know, the ones where there's a hostile takeover and rich corporate-type wants to sell off all the company's assets and fire everyone? Yeah, those movies. That's Mitt Romney, CEO of Bain Capital. He's that guy.


Even if you're a Republican who worships at the altar of the Free Market, it's hard to look at Romney's past and not see it as a liability. If you're that Republican and you're running against him, it becomes almost impossible not to see a target. And that has his opponents moving to the left of the party. Establishment Republicans are finding themselves at odds with most of their candidates and it's kind of putting them on the spot.

And this in itself is a problem; how do you defend Mitt Romney and Bain Capital without confirming every negative stereotype people have about the GOP and their relationship to the wealthy? If you're conservative spinmeister Frank Luntz, you don't. You change throw up a smokescreen.

Conservatives should not be defending capitalism. They should be defending economic freedom. And there is a difference. The word capitalism was created by Karl Marx to demonize those people who make a profit. We’ve always talked about the free enterprise system or economic freedom. Suddenly, they’re trying to defend something that has only 18 percent support.

The problem here is that "economic freedom" doesn't mean freedom from criticism, any more than freedom of speech means you get to say whatever you want and everyone else gets to shut up about it. And if "economic freedom" means doing what Bain did under Romney, I think the average person would like to see a little less of that particular brand of freedom. After all, you don't become a cookie-cutter movie villain by being widely respected and admired.

My point in all this is a simple one; in order to be more in tune with the average person and criticize Romney and Bain, GOP candidates are running to the left. They can't possibly run to the right with it. The best they'd be able to do is follow Luntz's lead and try to camouflage the issue with pretty words that poll better.

And what does this all prove? That the public is to the left of Republicans on issues of corporate responsibility and business ethics. Most of the candidates know this, that's forcing the GOP establishment to defend Romney, and that in turn putting them in the spotlight. There's a reason why it's mostly private citizens who are rushing to Mitt's defense, not elected Republicans; defending Bain is a Democratic "candidate X is so out of touch" attack ad waiting to happen.

Republican candidates are setting up a narrative that President Obama can carry into the general election. I'm not as convinced of Romney's "inevitability" as everyone else seems to be, but I will agree that the odds are heavily in his favor. What this means is that there will be a continuity of criticism, a bipartisan assault on Romney's past as a movie villain.

Willard has some rough sledding ahead.


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