Saturday, June 2, 2012

Double standards

I'm starting to lose patience with the president's critics who think it's somehow unfair or unseemly that the campaign is attacking Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital. Here we have a Republican challenger who epitomizes Wall Street greed. And one thing most Americans can probably agree on is that Wall Street greed was one of the causes of the crash of 2008. Yet President Obama, whose administration rescued the country from the ravages of that crash, and who also helped rescue Wall Street itself, is not supposed to point out the limitations of that system? He's not supposed to suggest that people in the LBO business are in it for the money?

Let's be clear about the president's critique of private equity. He never said they are evil. In fact he acknowledged that these firms can often perform a useful function. What President Obama noted, however, is that their main purpose is to create value for their investors, not to solve social problems. If a Bain Capital can make more money by selling off the assets of a struggling company than by trying to keep that company running, they will liquidate the company, and the rest of us might have to pick up the pieces. If the company can be made more profitable by outsourcing or consolidating its labor force, they will do that, and those newly-unemployed workers are on their own to find new jobs. Mitt Romney's business experience simply doesn't tell us what Mitt Romney plans to do to reduce unemployment. If anything, his background should make us more concerned about protecting American jobs. Unless Mitt Romney wants to openly acknowledge that his plan is to make this country work better for its wealthiest citizens, and he doesn't care if businesses have to put a lot of people out of work to make themselves more profitable, he can't claim that his business background serves as a good model for how he would govern the country.

There should be no mistake about the motives of those who are trying to de-legitimize the campaign's discussion of Bain Capital. They are the same people who call the president a socialist if he dares to suggest that millionaires can afford to pay more than 15% of their income in taxes. Their plan is to cut the president off at the knees. They will not grant President Obama the same license that Teddy Roosevelt had to rail against the robber barons. Or the same license that Franklin Roosevelt had to say, in his 1936 re-election campaign, that he welcomed the hatred of powerful Wall Street interests. Or the same license that "Give em hell" Harry Truman had to run against the do nothing Congress in 1948, and to attack the Republican Party as the party that only helps the people who don't need help.

President Obama is now being asked to play by different rules than those rough and tumble politicians had to live by. He must document everything to the nth degree. He must not allow allies like Cory Booker or Bill Clinton to express even slightly different opinions. The president is not allowed any slip-ups. If he says anything the least bit negative or critical, regardless of its truth, he is accused of being unfair, or anti-business, or impolite. That is a way of trying to get the public to ignore the substance of what the Obama campaign is saying. The president's critics might as well be calling him uppity. They expect the Obama campaign to disarm itself unilaterally, and give the Romney campaign a free hand.

At the same time, most of the media refuses to take note of Mitt Romney's nasty and negative campaign tactics. They give him a pass (with some notable exceptions) on telling blatant falsehoods week after week. Barack Obama is the president of the United States, and can point to a solid record of accomplishment in the face of almost unprecedented levels of opposition from the other party. He deserves to be treated with some respect. He should be allowed to play by the same rules as his opponent.

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