Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Will Bain Actually Matter for November?


Over the last week, Mitt Romney has struggled to deal with revelations over his tenure at Bain Capital and the extent of his involvement from 1999 to 2002. He insists he retired in 1999—and thus is not responsible for Bain’s conduct afterward—despite the fact that documents from a variety of sources show Romney as the owner, CEO, and sole shareholder, who continued to sign documents, sit on board members, and may have had a small role in managing the firm.

A Few Questions That Would Clear Up This Whole Bain Thing

Mitt Romney subjects America to the horror of his singing.

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:

Wag the Veep

Yesterday, as the Romney campaign was drowning in revelations and nagging questions about his time (and maybe-time) at Bain Capital, mysterious “sources” apparently decided it was an excellent time to call Matt Drudge and dangle a shiny pseudo-scoop in front of him. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he breathlessly reported at 7:30 p.m., is “now near the top of the list” to be Mitt’s vice-presidential choice. Why? Well, apparently because she gave a real nice speech at the Romney retreat in Utah recently.

2012 Is about the Past and the Future

One ongoing theme in this election is the extent to which political observers are simply bored with it. Last month, Politico’s Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns expressed frustration with the “small scale” of the election, and today, The New York Times’ Peter Baker echoes the concern, with a piece on how the campaigns are relitigating the past rather than articulating a vision for the future:

What's in Mitt Romney's Tax Returns?

Mitt Romney delivers fake, uncomfortable laugh at being asked about his tax returns.

To a certain degree, all this back-and-forth over precisely when Mitt Romney left Bain Capital is an argument about almost nothing. We might reasonably ask, what does it matter? The Romney campaign thought it mattered when they insisted that Romney wasn't part of the firm when it was doing stuff he was being criticized for, like shutting down factories and laying off workers. The Obama campaign thought it mattered when they wanted to make those charges in the first place, and now that they want to keep Romney on the defensive and stretch this story out longer by focusing on things like who Romney was deceiving when he attested on various documents that he either was or wasn't still in charge of Bain during the period between 1999 and 2002. But if we settled this argument once and for all (and don't worry, we won't), would it change much? Not really.

Nevertheless, this whole thing is only going to increase the pressure on Romney to release more tax returns. During the primaries he released one year's worth (2010), and it turned out to be quite a treasure trove for opposition researchers, over 200 pages of offshore accounts and lightly taxed income. Part of what's so weird about this question is that Romney seems actually to have believed he could get away with not releasing multiple years. Let's take a look back at what he said in a primary debate in January when he was asked whether he'd do what his father did and release multiple years of tax returns:

No, Candidates Don't Have to Lie

Lies lies lies yeah!

We reached some kind of a milestone this week when the Romney campaign decided it would use the word "lie" when complaining about criticisms the Obama campaign is making of the Republican soon-to-be-nominee. It's a word journalists almost never use, since it sounds too judgmental and they know they'll be accused of taking sides, and candidates seldom use, perhaps because it sounds too whiny, I'm not precisely sure. What we do know is that while some candidate are bigger liars than others, no presidential candidate seems capable of getting through a campaign without saying things that aren't true. Conor Friedersdorf asks, "Can anyone become president without lying? Without misrepresenting their opponent? Without using people as a means to an end? I don't think anyone can." The complaints about Barack Obama he cites are more about broken promises, which are different from lies, but I'll grant that Obama has said some things that weren't true. Yet I'd have to disagree.

Birtherism Isn't Going Away

Despite the fact that Barack Obama has an extensively documented past, and despite the fact that he revealed his birth certificate in a widely covered press conference, it seems that the birthers have turned Obama’s origins into an open question for a large chunk of the public. Here’s the latest survey from YouGov:

I Did Not Have Economic Relations with That Company

Still image from a Romney campaign ad.

There's something weird about Bain Capital. It seems that the company was going along doing what ordinary private-equity firms do—buying and selling companies, making lots of money—until about 1999 or so, when things took a sinister turn. At that point, terrible things began to happen. The firms they backed went into bankruptcy, costing thousands of people their jobs, while Bain still walked away with millions in management fees. They invested in companies that profited from outsourcing and offshoring. Who knows, they may have been producing magical hair-thickening elixirs made from the tears of orphans. Every time one of these new revelations comes out, it seems to concern the period after 1999.

Fishing for Boos

(Flickr / jim.greenfield)

In early 1990, as the lackluster California governorship of the lackluster George Deukmejian was running down, the two Democratic front-runners to succeed him were Attorney General John Van de Kamp and San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein—in that order. Then, at the state’s annual Democratic Party convention—a body with no nominating power (that was to be decided in a subsequent primary) but nonetheless a yearly gathering for liberal activists—Feinstein included in her speech a ringing, if otherwise gratuitous, endorsement of the death penalty. Predictably, the delegates booed her. Just as predictably, her standing in the polls quickly shot past Van de Kamp’s and she went on to win the Democratic primary (though she lost the general election to Republican Pete Wilson).

Extreme Makeover: Voting Edition


Elections, like baseball, are a simple game; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains. The rules are fairly intuitive to Americans from an early age. You’ve got your primaries, where the family engages in rousing infighting, and then the general election, where the guy or gal with the best power suit and tasteful red accessories wins. You vote for one candidate and get the hell out. The plebs always get stickers, and the senior citizens running the polls are guaranteed to be real pieces of work. It is democracy as the ancient Athenians must have imagined—only in their wildest dreams.

But could there be another way to do it? Indeed. The fact is, there is more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to voting. Without further ado, we present some different flavors of democracy in action. 

What the heck is Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)?

Also sporting the moniker “ranked choice voting” (catchy, eh?), this mode of voting is all about "win, place, show." Voters are given a list of candidates and must pick their No. 1. Then, they go on to choose a runner-up and a second runner-up. By expressing ranked preference on a ballot, the need for a separate runoff election at a later date is eliminated. 

Games People Play

Mitt Romney comes under withering fire for offshoring his millions to Bermuda and Switzerland—and for refusing to allow light to shine into what the Times calls his “financial black hole”—Senator Lindsey Graham came up with what is surely the year’s most novel li

How Much Will Money Matter?


So far this week, the big presidential campaign news is Mitt Romney’s massive fundraising haul for the month of June. The Romney team raised $106 million last month, out-raising President Obama by $35 million and besting Democrats for the second month in a row. There are important asterisks to the GOP gains—in particular, a large portion of this money has been raised for the technically ongoing primary, and can't be spent until after the convention—but it’s still impressive. If the Romney team can sustain this pace—it’s possible they’re collecting low-hanging fruit, and the numbers will drop off later—then it will have a large financial advantage in the fall.

Americans Paying Historically Low Taxes

The top marginal income tax rate, a testament to our oppression. (Flickr)

When the Tea Party movement started in 2009, some of its adherents made signs that read, "Taxed Enough Already!", since the movement defined itself in large part as a reaction against the oppressive tax policies of the federal government, sucking ordinary people dry in its endless search for cash to fund its freedom-destroying schemes. This was always an insane inversion of actual reality—the truth is that as part of the stimulus bill, President Obama actually cut taxes for almost everyone, and the only tax increase he imposed in his first term was a hike in cigarette taxes. It's true that the Affordable Care Act contains a number of different tax increases (on things like "Cadillac" health plans), but those have not taken effect yet. But to many conservatives, it just feels like they're paying more taxes, because...well, because there's a Democrat in the White House.

Today, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on the taxes we have actually been paying, and guess what: the average federal taxes paid by Americans are at their lowest point in the last 30 years:

Didn't See It Coming?


Surely by now you’ve figured out that you shouldn’t be listening to any of us, haven’t you? One of the more nitwitted arguments of Marxist-Leninists—back when there were such people—was that history is a science and human behavior is as predictable as chemical interaction, rendering sociological results inevitable,; and if few of us in what passes for the commentariat these days would put matters in such a way, we still tend to view politics as a series of patterns determined by previous patterns, which are defined by ideology and demographics.

Show Us Your Papers!

The calls for Obama to show his birth certificate still rage on at the extreme fringe of the Republican Party, but it seems that it is finally time for Mitt Romney to turn over his documentation. Instead of a birth certificate, though, Romney's opponents on the left are looking for his tax forms—can we make "formerism" a neologism?—from the past decade.