Today in Nontroversies

Despite the fact that most Democrats are enthusiastic about the Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain Capital, the news media has run with the “narrative” that Democrats are bucking the Obama message in favor of more conciliatory rhetoric toward private equity. According to CNN, the latest Democrat to go off the reservation is Bill Clinton, who praised Romney’s business record in a press conference yesterday:

“I don’t think that we ought to get into the position where we say ’This is bad work. This is good work.” And: ”I think the real issue ought to be, what has Gov. Romney advocated in the campaign that he will do as president? What has President Obama done and what does he propose to do? How do these things stack up against each other?"

CNN reported this as a blow to President Obama, but is that actually the case? Here is what Obama said about Bain in a widely cited press conference last week:

[I]f your main argument for how to grow the economy is, “I knew how to make a lot of money for investors,” then you are missing what this job is about.

It doesn’t mean you weren’t good at private equity, but that’s not what my job is as President. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure the country is growing not just now, but ten years from now, twenty years from now. And so, to repeat, this is not a distraction. This is what this campaign is going to be about: What is a strategy for us to move this country forward in a way where everybody can succeed?

This was preceded by praise for people who use private equity to find efficiencies and create new industries. The language might differ from Clinton’s—it’s somewhat more qualified—but the core message is the same: regardless of what you think of private equity, this campaign is about the direction of the country. And if private equity is part of a candidate’s resume, it should be part of the conversation.

To move away from the campaign, this is a good reminder that—insofar that the media has a bias—it's in favor of news; if it seems new, it becomes a big deal, even if it’s unremarkable in the scheme of things.


Romney wants to pretend that private equity firms are run by geniuses who can do no wrong, and that the government can do no right (which makes you wonder why he wants, so desperately, to be in charge of the government, but let's assume it's an 'out of control narcissism' thing).

The President clearly does not believe either argument, but despite the rhetoric from people like Romney is not willing to point out some obvious facts about private equity:

1. It was the government, not private equity, that saved Chrysler. At the time it needed to be bailed out, Chrysler was a private company, owned by self-professed turnaround specialist Cerberus Capital Management. Cerberus was running Chrysler straight into the ground.

2. Although the government extended loan guarantees to Solyndra, Wikipedia informs us that "Major investors included George Kaiser Family Foundation, U.S. Venture Partners, CMEA Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Virgin Green Fund, Madrone Capital Partners, RockPort Capital Partners, Argonaut Private Equity, Masdar and Artis Capital Management." If all of those entities vetted Solyndra and saw nothing that deterred them from putting their own money on the line, is Romney damning private equity and venture capitalism when he bashes the President (conveniently omitting the fact that the loan guarantee program started under Bush, with Solyndra's application for loan guarantees predating Obama's election)?

I would love to hear Romney explain why the private equity geniuses who invested in Solyndra, and more so the private equity firm that owned Chrysler, somehow stand as evidence that a person with a background in private equity should be assumed competent to be President, as the two biggest examples upon which Romney has commented would appear to be in one (Solyndra) case a tie, and in the other case (Chrysler) a clear win for the government.

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