Why Obama's Attack on Bain Capital is Good for America
Ever since the Obama campaign launched a full-frontal assault on GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his record as a leveraged-buyout kingpin at Bain Capital, all manner of consternation and hand-wringing have ensued -- some of it from Democrats.
At issue are campaign ads and videos that focus on the people whose jobs were lost when Bain, during Romney's time as CEO, bought up the companies they worked for, and then shuttered those companies' operations. One ad looks at Bain's killing of a steel plant in Missouri; a subsequent video looks at the case of SCM, once a major office-supply manufacturer, and the brutal way in which Bain fired the workforce. In both instances, Bain and its investors made substantial profits.
The Obama campaign may have gone after Romney on Bain simply because staffers want their man to win the election -- and they've found quite a chink in Romney's armor, given that the former Massachusetts governor has hung the rationale for his presidential campaign not on his prowess as an elected official, but on his success as a business mogul. But the anti-Bain campaign, and its fallout, is a potent reminder of how income inequality manifests in the lives of real people, and how structural problems in the electoral system favor the Bain-style robber barons of the world.
Exhibit 1 of this structural bent toward extreme inequality is the outburst of Newark Mayor Cory Booker on NBC's Meet the Press last Sunday, when His Honor dubbed as "nauseating" the Obama camp's ad about the Bain-eviscerated steel plant -- and equated it with a superPAC proposal for a race-baiting anti-Obama ad that would dredged up the white-fear bogeyman figure of Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Now, why would Booker, an African American, self-described Obama campaign "surrogate" do such a thing? Turns out, he has good reason: ThinkProgress reports that Booker's first mayoral campaign collected $565,000 from the financial sector, including donations from employees of Bain Capital:
In all — just in his first Mayoral run — Booker’s committees received more than $565,000 from the people he was defending. At least $36,000 of that came from folks at Romney’s old firm.
Obama himself is hardly immune to the pressures of campaign cash from fat cats, leading some to cry hypocrisy at his campaign's attack on Romney's tenure at Bain. Just last week, Obama attended a campaign fundraiser hosted by Hamilton James, president of the Blackstone Group, the nation's largest "private equity" firm. But with Romney likely to suck up most of the campaign dollars being served up by Wall Street, the Obama campaign is apparently willing to take the risk of alienating a few fat cats, it that's what it takes to win in an increasingly tight presidential race. An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Obama a mere 3 points ahead of Romney -- well within the margin of error. On the issue of who would best steer the economy, the poll finds the two candidates tied.
With data like that, Obama's best shot at making his case is to expose the kind of values Romney's tenure at Bain Capital reveal -- values that lard the coffers of rich people at the expense of working Janes and Joes.
But progressives would be wise not to simply turn up their noses at what are obviously the machinations of electoral politics, and instead target the campaign-funding infrastructure the Democrats intramural Bain episode reveals. Because the truth is, the values by which Romney ran Bain are not simply his values, or Republican values: they're the values of the American financial sector, which also happens to underwrite a major portion of U.S. election campaigns. They have the dough, and their bread will be buttered.
Had the Occupy movement never happened, chances are that the Obama campaign would not have had the gumption to go after Bain in this way. It was Occupy that shifted the dialog on the economy from debt and deficit to income inequality, and the American people responded favorably to the message, if not the movement.
Much has been made of Occupy's refusal to cough up a succinct list of demands. The anarchical structure of the movement notwithstanding, one demand might behoove the embrace of Occupy: public financing of political campaigns. For until the private money is removed from politics, apologists for the rapacious practices of American finance entities will still, with a straight face, be able to present themselves as do-gooding populists while their patrons laugh all the way to the bank.