The question of when exactly Mitt Romney "left" Bain Capital may not be the most trivial campaign controversy in history (it certainly has more importance than the dozens of "My opponent said something that when taken out of context sounds troubling!" kerfuffles we have to suffer through every four years), but when it has gotten to the point that we're checking the Wayback Machine to see if Romney was listed on Bain Capital's website in 2000, we're drifting far away from the reasons this is supposed to matter. Just to remind you, Romney's departure date tells us whether he is an honest job-creating business leader (1999), or a rapacious job-destroying vulture capitalist (2002).
I was hoping that the five interviews Romney did with the TV networks on Friday might clear this up, but unfortunately they focused on things like whether Barack Obama's campaign representatives are super-meanies for how they're criticizing Romney. But a couple of simple questions might clear this whole thing up so we can move on. If I had the chance to interview Romney (just so you know, Governor, the Prospect's doors are always open), I'd ask this:
From 1999 to 2002, you were on a leave of absence, retired, whatever you want to call it, from Bain Capital. During that period, the firm invested in some companies that promoted outsourcing, both in the U.S. and overseas. Were you aware at the time that Bain had made these investments?
You see, we don't have to worry about what Romney was called on the various forms Bain filed, because at the moment, the outsourcing question is what's animating this discussion. (There are also some companies Bain shut down during this period, leaving their employees without work, health insurance, and pensions while Bain collected millions in management fees. But those stories have taken a back seat to the outsourcing question.)
If Romney's answer is no (and we believe him) then that's really the end of the argument. Whether he was totally, completely, entirely not at Bain anymore starting in 1999 (his story) or still in charge even if he wasn't there day-to-day (what some documents testify), it's entirely possible that he had nothing to do with these particular investments made by the firm. If he didn't, then the Obama campaign ought to drop the outsourcing attacks, and we can move on. But whatever his answer is, it would also be worthwhile to ask him this:
Do you think Bain did anything wrong by investing in these companies? Why or why not?
On a political level, both Romney and Obama obviously think the answer is "yes." If they didn't, Obama wouldn't be criticizing Romney for investing in the outsourcing companies, and Romney wouldn't be adamantly denying that he had anything to do with it. So really, they both ought to explain. My guess is that Romney doesn't really think Bain did anything wrong, whether he was involved or not. But he sure as heck isn't going to say that. On the other hand, he isn't going to say they did anything wrong either.
Either way, there's no question the Obama campaign is like a fighter who has opened a cut over his opponent's eye and is going to keep hammering it as long as the blood keeps flowing. And they finally got the chance to put Romney's horrifying rendition of "America the Beautiful" into an ad, one that stitches together the outsourcing story with the fact that Romney's personal finances are spread all over the world:
There's a certain karmic pleasure one can take in this, since Romney has spent the last couple of years saying that Barack Obama doesn't understand America, doesn't have an American perspective, apologizes for America, and so on. If nothing else, the Obama campaign's needle toward Romney's patriotism is a bit more subtle.