Civics 101

Beneath the skirmish over whether President Obama should use Bain Capital against Mitt Romney (simple answer: duh), you could detect a deeper—and far more edifying—theme that’s starting to define the presidential campaign. Obama’s ringing response in Chicago to critics of his Bain criticisms made the plainest logical sense: If Romney’s going to claim his business experience as his main qualification for the presidency, then of course that business experience is part of the debate. But Obama’s mini-lecture about what a president does—and how it’s vastly different from running Bain—was particularly striking. “When you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm,” he said in part, “then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.”

Obama’s discourse about what a president does—and how businessmen aren’t necessarily equipped to do it—is part of his larger, ongoing effort to explain and defend the role of government. At times, he must feel like he’s teaching the Civics 101 class that the whole country skipped: Here’s what a president does. Here’s what government is for. Here’s why government is not a business. This argument is one that no Democratic nominee has made wholeheartedly in decades (including Obama in ’08), and it’s essential for the party both in the short and long runs. Ever since Reagan’s famous inaugural declaration that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” the right has taken that formulation to its logical extreme: Government isn’t merely the problem, it’s the enemy. With the 30-year dominance of this narrative, the counter-argument won’t be easy for Obama to make persuasively. But if he does—and, crucially, if it works and he prevails in November—his campaign will have doubled as a public service. And, one hopes, it will also undercut the “I’m a rich businessman, I should be running the government” shibboleth for a good long time.

So They Say

“Ugly enough to choke a buzzard.”

Dan Rather on the 2012 campaign 


Daily Meme: Rage on, Bain Debate

  • Joshua Green: “It’s become clear that President Obama’s reelection campaign is going to focus heavily on attacking Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital. That’s a problem for Romney. It’s a problem, too, for the private equity industry. … But it’s also going to be a problem for Democrats."
  • Not just northeastern Dems cozy with Wall Street, either. This could bounce back on other politicos in D.C., and to the White House.
  • The “vulture capitalist” line may have other unintended consequences too.
  • The Washington Times writes (surprise) that liberals just don't get business.
  • Roger Simon points out that history shows businesspeople don't get the White House, either.
  • Paul Waldman notes that Romney isn't very skilled at talking about Bain. But he doesn't want to talk about his other relevant executive experience.
  • Yeah, that relevant executive experience!
  • It’s too early to tell if the Bain attack is working, and it will take tens of millions of the Obama campaign's cash to find out whether it ever will.
  • Major Garrett says that the major takeaway is that the general election campaign is finally here to stay, and it's revolving around issues Romney still doesn't want to talk about.
  • He'd better learn to love it fast. What he's doing right now isn't working.

What We're Writing

  •  Steve Erickson: “Every question now about Romney’s Bain record will be accompanied by another question of whether it should be questioned.”  
  • Abby Rapoport: How Democrats can still win Wisconsin.

What We're Reading


Poll of the Day

Fifty-seven percent of Marylanders say they would support same-sex marriage if there’s a state referendum in November—a new high. But the most striking number in today’s Washington Post-ABC News poll was the sea change in African Americans’ attitudes in the wake of President Obama’s historic endorsement: Fifty-five percent are now in favor and 36 percent against, basically a reversal of polls taken in March.

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