Gene Lyons: Big business failed, and Mitt's touchy about it

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Corporations are people too, and people get their feelings hurt. What’s more, the richer they are these days, the more sensitive they seem to be.
It’s reminiscent of that Hans Christian Andersen story of the “Princess and the Pea.” You know, where the tender young virgin is so delicate that a single pea hidden under seven feather mattresses keeps her awake all night. That’s how the prince satisfies himself that she’s a real aristocrat.
So it is with Mitt Romney, GOP presidential candidate and onetime corporate buccaneer. When Romney’s not running around boasting about his enormous success running Bain Capital and accusing others of envying the vast wealth he’s got stashed in numbered accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, his tender sensibilities are constantly being offended by peasants whining about lost jobs and stolen pensions.
Why do they hate America?Anyway, his thin skin is how you know Romney’s an aristocrat.
Ever since reckless gambling by Wall Street investment bankers cratered the world economy back in 2008, their collective self-pity has been something to see. It’s not enough that taxpayers should bail them out, and then watch them go back to awarding each other multi-million dollar bonuses like one of those children’s athletic programs where everybody gets a trophy.
Evidently, it’s our patriotic duty to pretend that nothing ever happened, and to reject attempts to regulate Wall Street both as an impediment to genius and an assault upon capitalism itself. Hence the Romney candidacy — yet another GOP prep school cheerleader, and a credit to his social class.
Because Romney was born rich and made himself fabulously wealthy through Bain Capital, to question how he did it is akin to insulting his birthright. And that simply isn’t done. It appears to make him indignant. Romney, you see, was born qualified for the presidency.
At first glance, one wouldn’t expect Cory Booker (the mayor of Newark, N.J., for heaven’s sake) to be down with that kind of thing.
Indeed, Booker’s been walking back his remarks on “Meet the Press” about how “nauseating” he found Democratic ads exposing the dark side of Bain Capital.
“I have to just say from a very personal level,” Booker had said, “I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity.” He’d equated the ads with attacks on Jeremiah Wright, the strident Chicago preacher President Obama had to explain away during the 2008 campaign.
Now Booker says what should have been obvious all along: The Obama campaign wasn’t condemning private equity firms (much less capitalism). Rather, the ads pointed out that for somebody who boasts of being a job creator, Romney and Bain Capital put an awful lot of people out of work over the years, walking away with millions in profits while leaving behind companies bankrupted by debt, shuttered factories, jobless workers screwed out of health care benefits, and pensions left for the federal government to pick up.
A bit too late, Booker also says he resents the GOP making use of his ill-considered remarks to hurt Obama.
For what it’s worth, Newark’s mayor himself isn’t quite the person you might take him for. He’s an IBM executive’s son raised in the Manhattan bedroom community of Harrington Park, N.J., a town with a median family income of $124,376 in the 2000 census — the kind of place where you can’t swing a golf club without hitting a Wall Street banker.
An enormously talented fellow, Booker holds degrees from Stanford, Oxford University and Yale Law School. Rather like President Obama, he’s been rubbing elbows with the Mitt Romneys of the world most of his life. Bain Capital and other Wall Street firms donated $565,000 to his 2002 mayoral campaign. He comes by his understanding of Wall Street’s hurt feelings naturally.
So does President Obama. Bain Capital donated more to Democrats than Republicans in 2008. Indeed, the most noteworthy thing about this latest kerfuffle is how mild Democratic attacks on Romney have been. During the GOP primaries, Rick Perry derided him as a “vulture capitalist.” The Texas governor ran ads claiming he’d “made millions buying companies and laying off workers.” Newt Gingrich said Romney should “give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain.”
In his May 20 Washington Post column, E.J. Dionne noticed Vice President Biden making a broader argument than Obama has yet permitted himself. Speaking in Youngstown, Ohio, Biden criticized rampant “financialization” as an economic strategy. For working people to prosper, he argued, what’s needed is an economy “that’s built on making things rather than on collateralized debt, creative credit-default swaps, (and) financial instruments like subprime mortgages.”
Lest anybody in Ohio forget, Biden also reminded them that while President Obama saved the auto industry, Mitt Romney thought it would have been more efficient to break the labor unions and let General Motors die.
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Gene Lyons writes for the Arkansas Times.