Newt Gingrich and Capitalism, Mitt Romney and Bain Capital

Newt Gingrich’s recent criticism of Mitt Romney has landed him in hot water.

At issue is Bain Capital, a venture capital firm Romney ran, which made its money buying up troubled businesses and selling the assets at a profit. Gingrich questioned the validity of that business experience as it relates to qualifications for being President. Gingrich’s comments were labeled as anti-Capitalist and even compared to policies of Democrats and President Obama.

It was argued Bain did the things we advocated for during bail-outs. Didn’t we argue for letting failing businesses fail, be bought by investors like with the process governed only by Market forces? Yes, we did. How then, can Gingrich’s comments be seen as anything but anti-Capitalist?

The answer lies in asking where Romney’s business experience came from; not in simply acknowledging he has some and moving on. The question is “What sort of business experience are we talking about, exactly?”

Near my home is a property recently bought by a convenience store chain to build on. To build the new store an existing building was torn down. The key point here is that the company which demolished the building and cleared the land is not the same one building the new store.

Why? Because the skills and experience needed for the two tasks are very different and, while they may be lumped together under the general label “construction,” to suggest a skilled demolition company is automatically a good builder because it can tear down is readily seen as a flawed premise. Just so with Romney’s appeal to his business experience and Speaker Gingrich’s critique of that appeal.

Romney’s business experience certainly qualifies as Capitalist and Free Market just as a demolition company is a construction company. But his experience is in dismantling businesses, not in building them, creating jobs, putting people to work and the other portions of Capitalism and Free Markets that happen after old things are destroyed.

The President’s job will not be to tear America down like a vacant and derelict building. It will be to fix what has fallen into disrepair; to restore the values and and ideals that drove us to first place among the world’s nations. That was Reagan’s strategy after the disaster that was Carter. He didn’t tear America down or break her up as if some or all of her was past saving or no longer relevant. Instead he cast a bold, bright future of shining hilltop cities with their best days ahead of them.

Romney’s experience in dismantling things, as excellent as it may be, is better suited for an America at sunset; not for a time when it is morning in America.

Some may try to apply my analogy to the political and suggest Romney would be great at dismantling political things such as ObamaCare and the rush to Socialism we are seeing in Washington DC. But Politics and Business are very different enterprises. Skills in one may not readily transfer to the other.

Not even Romney is arguing his political experience better qualifies him for the Big Chair. There is a good reason for that.

If dismantling powerful political structures is the goal, no candidate’s experience compares to Newt Gingrich. He put the Contract with America’s issues front and center and forced votes on them. He led and oversaw the flip of the House from Democrat to GOP control. While Bill Clinton often takes credit for balancing the budget, spending bills originate in the House. Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House during that time. No list of accomplishments is complete without remembering passing Welfare Reform. Again, Speaker Gingrich led that effort.

This is the context in which Gingrich’s comments need to be placed and evaluated. Not the frantic search for an easy sound bite driven by a 24 hour news cycle; but the thoughtful and honest evaluation of the actual skills and talents available to bring to bear on the challenges facing our Republic in the midst of difficult times.

Seen in this light, Speaker Gingrich and his comments and evaluation don’t seem anti-Capitalist or anti-Free Markets at all. In fact they seem wiser and more thoughtful than he is being given credit for.

What of Governor Romney? His business experience, as excellent and as Capitalist as it is, does not produce the best skill set for running a nation facing the challenges we do in 2012. The Governor is a fine man and successful businessman. He’s just not the best man for the job.

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