Why Cory Booker and Corporate Friendly Dems Who Fear Attacking Wall Street Are a Big Problem for Democrats
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If you needed a reminder that Democrats and Republicans approach presidential elections very differently, the past few days have provided a vivid object lesson. Mitt Romney has made his time leading Bain Capital the centerpiece of his campaign, so Barack Obama's campaign quite naturally decided to attack him on it, a decision that was surely made months ago. They are doing so in both concrete and abstract terms, criticizing Romney for specific moves Bain made involving the firm profiting off companies that went bankrupt, and making the more general argument that a successful career maximizing profit for wealthy investors does not prepare one for the presidency. Then suddenly, the Obama campaign became the target of an unusual amount of criticism from Democrats rising to the defense of the “private equity” industry.
The chorus of scolding certainly demonstrates just how entwined the Democratic party has become with Wall Street and large corporations more generally; when high-ranking Democrats criticize this campaign tactic, they're defending their friends and contributors. But it mostly shows that among Democrats, everybody thinks they ought to be running the presidential campaign. And they aren't afraid to say so.
It started with Newark mayor Cory Booker, who said he was "nauseated" by both sides' attacks, lumping together criticism of Romney's record at Bain with potential attacks on Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright in a bizarre false equivalence. Ex-congressman Harold Ford, who has fashioned a career as a "Fox News Democrat" (i.e. a Democrat whose job it is to come on television and criticize Democrats) and who now works for Merrill Lynch, predictably took to the airwaves to defend Big Finance's honor. Steven Rattner, the Wall Streeter who oversaw the auto bailout for the Obama administration and a former private equity chief himself, offered his own defense of Bain (though he also defended the Obama campaign). Former Pennsylvania governor and DNC chair Ed Rendell called Obama's criticisms "very disappointing." Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Chris Coons (D-DE) said the Obama campaign should stop talking about Bain and move on to other topics. If you're a reporter looking to write a story about Democratic infighting, it won't be hard to find a prominent Democrat who'll give you a quote calling out the Obama campaign.
But you won't have nearly so easy a time finding Republicans who'll criticize the moves the Romney campaign has made or will make. It isn't that Republicans don't grouse about their candidate's campaign -- they just don't do it publicly. We will not see any Republican elected officials going on television or writing op-eds to express their displeasure with the Romney campaign's decisions. That's not how Republicans work. They put a great premium on loyalty, teamwork and message discipline. The various parts of the conservative coalition may have different agendas and long-held disagreements, but once an election approaches, they all understand who the enemy is and how important it is to maintain a united front.
Up until recently, Republicans certainly spent a good deal of time wondering whether Mitt Romney's eventual nomination might doom them to defeat in November. But in the time since Romney's nomination was assured, those notes of dissent have disappeared. Whether they like it or not, he's their nominee, and they won't do anything to undermine the cause. And if anyone does raise questions about decisions the Romney campaign makes, you can be sure that those questions will be tactical, not substantive. In other words, a Republican might say, "I don't think this argument is going to be effective in persuading voters" (in most cases, that will be because the person making the claim thinks the campaign should be tougher and harsher). But you won't hear any Republicans saying that the Romney campaign has stepped over some moral line in its attacks.