On VPs, Business Careers and Populist Politicking

The Romney campaign seems to be locked in dance mode with itself currently, alternating between providing statements proclaiming 'we don't have a VP lined up yet' and fundraising and marketing pieces which advertise opportunities to 'come meet the next VP'. Whether or not you believe the Republican knows who he will ask to be his running mate (I personally believe he does) it is hard to argue with the idea that his campaign first suggested a VP nod was close, then protracted the announcement process, as a ploy to take attention from and counter the persistent Bain attacks coming from the left.

When did he stop running the erstwhile Bain (now apparently Bane) Capital? Did he employ off-shoring as a cost-cutting technique when he was in charge? How much control did he have over the company? How many jobs were lost on his watch? While these questions and more have been asked almost conspiriatorally in some quarters in response to the Obama campaign's ad nauseum finger pointing at Romney's Bain 'record', they also signal and reflect to some extent the mood of certain segments of the population.

Notwithstanding any grandstanding about President Obama and socialism, notwithstanding some very real issues with implicit and explicit government guarantees and intervention, notwithstanding legitimate gripes about income gaps and trade imbalances and stock market issues and everything else, America is basically a capitalist society and a good representative of the system at that. Bain Capital and other companies like it allow the system to, at times, flourish. Without getting into too many details about how Bain does business, it provides capital to the system and helps companies to become stronger. If that means job losses at times, it also means jobs saved if the companies in question are able to continue as going concerns for a longer time period.

Complaining about how Bain did business is, in a way, like complaining about capitalism itself. Companies bought and sold, creative destruction, employee turnover; all are results of the capitalist system, and were all things Bain was/is very good at. Now, here is where things get tricky. While capitalism is the system in the US (and while it has an obvious fan in this blogger), those who are in charge of the system have not acquitted themselves well over the last decade or so, and many Americans are, rightly, angry with a system which has left many of them behind. This is certainly fair, and even those who appreciate the benefits of a system don't need to exhibit blind faith to it.

Not so shockingly, many of these individuals consider themselves to be Democrats, though as a result of personal observation, I would say that many such individuals are somewhere left of the current party platform. When Obama's camp persists in Bain bashing, it is a direct populist plea to his base, and those to the left of his base, who feel left behind by capitalism. Never mind the idea that capitalism as a system will persist under another four years of Obama, and indeed one would assume Mr. Obama hopes the system thrives for legacy purposes if nothing else.

While the Obama camp has forced Romney and his advisors to backpedal a bit, I believe that these are potentially very expensive cheap shots Obama is racking up; those who accept and rally behind the anti-capitalist rhetoric were low-hanging fruit for the incumbent in any case while he risks deep-pocketed funders, support from business and votes from many socially liberal/fiscally conservative moderates if the Bain attacks continue. Like so many things in politics, it seems a lose-lose for everyone.

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