Why Is Everyone Focused on Bain Capital?

The past 24 hours have been abysmal for the Romney campaign. Not only has it scrambled to deal with revelations regarding Mitt Romney’s “shadow years” at Bain Capital, but further digging has led to more serious questions—and accusations—about Romney’s conduct. Put another way, you know you’re in trouble when even a friendly piece—by Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler—has to tackle the question of whether Romney broke the law.

Naturally, this has prompted a vigorous response from the Romney campaign, in the form of an ad that accuses President Obama of lying for political gain. Given recent revelations, the timing of the ad was a little awkward, but that hasn’t stopped the Romney campaign from deploying it in a serious way. As Greg Sargent reports, the ad is currently running in multiple media markets in each of the major swing states: Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, and New Hampshire.

This push has two goals: first, to challenge President Obama trustworthy image—he maintains high favorability ratings—and second, to suggest there’s something illegitimate about the Obama team’s critique of Romney’s time at Bain Capital. The problem with this approach, of course, is that Romney insists we judge him on the basis of his accomplishments in the private sector. I took Romney’s victory speech for the Republican nomination—which he gave after winning primaries in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York—along with his four most recent speeches, and plugged them into a word cloud. Here is the result:



Massachusetts is nonexistent. Instead, we see references to “business”, “businesses,” and “enterprise.” According to Mitt Romney, it’s his time at Bain Capital that makes him qualified for the presidency. If that’s the case, then it’s only reasonable to ask questions about what came with the responsibility, and whether it’s appropriate experience for public office.

It should be said that it’s not hard to see why Romney would want to delegitimize attacks on his private sector experience at the same time that he touts it as his chief qualification. Americans like businesspeople, but they aren’t keen on business impropriety. Moreover, Romney’s conduct is illustrative of a disconnect between the world of elites and the world of everyone else. The Boston Phoenix’s David Bernstein explains:

It … reinforces the image of Romney as part of the specially insulated corporate overlord class, who get to manipulate the rules so that they always end up the winner. … He apparently was able to make a lot of money (or at least, what seems like a lot of money to most people) for being president, owner, and investor in a company while actually being off in Utah doing a completely different full-time job.

And, of course, he was apparently freely signing off on anything required of the president and owner, without, apparently, feeling like that meant he actually had any responsibility for anything happening at the company. It looks like legal, regulatory, and fiduciary responsibilities don’t really mean anything to super-wealthy executive types—not like when regular people sign employment documents, or mortgage documents, and so on.

For a campaign that needs a critical mass of white working-class voters to win the election, this is the worst possible image to have.