Mitt, Bain Capital, and Why it Matters

Yet another epic firestorm engulfs the GOP primary as we head into the South Carolina primaries (for just a small sample see here, here, and here. This time, it is the attacks by Newt Gingrich,followed by Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Santorum on Mitt Romney’s days with Bain Capital. The backlash on the right against those candidates for attacking Romney has been cast as an “attack from the left” which has left a bad taste in the mouths of some, and raised questions about the conservatism of the “not-Romney” candidates for many others. I will submit here that the argument over whether attacks on Bain Capital are proper for GOP candidates are a red herring. The real issue here, as I see it, is not about “capitalism” and the ethics of Bain Capital, it is about Romney’s claim to be a job creator. Instead of the hysteria from some on our side that challenging Mitt’s business record is tantamount to abandoning the core principles of the GOP and conservatism, the real discussion ought to be about Mitt’s qualifications.

What we do know about Bain, is that sometimes their business model led them to divest holdings in the U.S. and move jobs overseas. This is often, sadly, a result of a poor business climate in parts of the U.S. That is what Romney needs to defend, Not the morality of moving (or eliminating) the jobs, but the idea that he is some sort of world-beating job creator because of his time in the venture capital and private equity business.

It is evident that Bain was not in the business of creating jobs. They were in the business of making money, and if that meant shipping jobs overseas or closing locations they acquired, then that is what they did. If it meant jobs were added to some companies, then that was fine also. Whatever made them money. There is nothing inherently wrong with that; no one goes into business to not make money.

What might be wrong, however, is for Mitt to claim some sort of mantle as a job creator, when he never really cared about jobs for Americans. Jobs or no jobs were merely a side effect of Bain’s mission. Romney is asking us to trust that he is qualified to take on the economic problems of the U.S. because he has this background at Bain Capital. That is the man’s main selling point to the American people.

Let’s give Mitt his due. He probably does know how jobs are created in the private sector; We can give him that, and not even grudgingly. What we can’t give him, yet, though, is a record of making that happen. He was all too willing to turn away from creating or preserving jobs when Bain’s interests dictated it. Fine, that was the business he was in. Yet, the question then becomes “what will he do when some political expediency requires the same sort of decision?”

Mitt has been squishy if not a downright leftist on the man-made global warming. Though he now pretends to some skepticism on the issue, this subject has been one of primary reasons why the majority of Republicans and conservatives have not been excited about his candidacy and question his authenticity. That places his Bain Capital background in a broader perspective. If Romney’s days at Bain are any sort of guide to his skills and business character (as he insists it ought to be), then we might be question how that approach might affect his decisions as President.

We know that Bain killed American jobs when it meant profit for the shareholders and investors. When political profit is at stake, will Mitt do what is right for America, or will he serve his own best interests? To someone whose driving interest (at least insofar as his touted qualifications for the office demonstrate) is self-interest, where does he go with on the global warming issue? Can we expect a carbon credit or a cap-and-trade system under a Romney Presidency? What about any number of other issues? Whether Bain Capital is good, or evil, necessary or sleazy, is beside the point. They do what they do (though some specific deals may be questionable), and it’s all apparently legal. It is also irrelevant. What is relevant is what his Bain days say about Mitt Romney’s character, and for that reason alone the discussion is both necessary and appropriate.