Where Does It End?
The illogic of Obama’s attack on Romney.
Sep 3, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 47 • By NOEMIE EMERY
Boy, that Mitt Romney can screw up your life. Or possibly end it. To hear the left tell it, he is not merely a vampire and/or vulture capitalist, getting rich while leaving millions of people in misery, he is also able to give people cancer, at a distance of thousands of miles and after the passage of quite a few years.
We first learned of his powers way back in May, when the Washington Post ran a long—very long—piece about Mitt’s schooldays at Cranbrook, a posh prep school in Michigan where he led a posse that forcibly trimmed the long, dyed golden locks of a schoolmate, giving that schoolmate not only an unpleasant few minutes but laying a curse on the rest of his life. The piece does not say, but strongly implies, that it was largely due to the trauma of this experience that he was thrown out of Cranbrook (he was ejected for smoking) and led an itinerant existence living and working all over the world before succumbing to cancer while still in his 50s in a hospital in Seattle months before Romney, then a millionaire and a governor, was honored at Cranbrook’s graduation ceremonies with a distinguished alumnus award.
The story not only implied that it was unfair that the perpetrator of the affair of the hair was a millionaire and a governor and praised by the school while the victim of it died neither rich nor remarked on, but that the two events were interrelated: that a nonconformist had somehow been sacrificed so that an establishment figure like Romney could thrive.
The second instance of Romney’s unique voodoo powers came to light a few weeks ago, in an ad made by a liberal super-PAC that featured a man named Joe Soptic who seemed to blame his wife’s death from cancer on the fact that he lost his health insurance when Bain Capital closed his steel mill, that she became ill “a short time after,” went to the hospital with what she thought was pneumonia, was diagnosed instead with stage 4 lung cancer, and died two weeks later. But it turned out that “a short time after” was in 2006, five years after the plant closed and seven after Romney had left Bain for the Olympics; that Soptic was offered a buyout and chose not to take it; that his wife had her own health coverage for several years after; that he had the chance to buy his wife coverage and chose not to do so; and that while he suggested she had felt ill earlier and not sought treatment sooner because she thought she could not afford it, he does not quite say this, and she might not have realized how sick she was until near the end.
Challenged on this, Democrats say they aren’t blaming Romney exactly, just pointing out that he wasn’t quite sensitive enough to the impact upon innocent people that some of his decisions had. Said Bill Burton, who created it: “The point of this ad is to tell the story of one guy . . . and the impact on his life that happened for years” as the result of Mitt Romney’s doings. As Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, put it on Fox News, Romney “bankrupted companies, laid off workers, cut their benefits, and made millions of dollars. . . . That ad points out that there are consequences to actions like that that impacted people’s lives in a significant way.”
There are indeed, but this ad transgressed the bounds of all reason: It assumed that employers are directly responsible for the health, wealth, and well-being of all employees, not only during their employment but in perpetuity; and it suggested that the defects of capitalism stem directly from the will and intentions of Romney, and are his fault and his fault alone.
Capitalism, let us be clear here, has been a glorious thing. It has, as Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner tell us in City of Man, “produced two things that for much of history were regarded as inconceivable: a large middle class and intergenerational wealth-building,” lifted millions out of poverty, and enabled stunning medical and scientific advancements that have prolonged and enriched all our lives. “Free markets,” they say, “also go hand in hand with free societies [and] where capitalism has not yet taken root we find destitution, widespread misery and illiteracy and much early death.”
All this is true, but it also has its downsides: The market is capricious, subject to boom-and-bust cycles, and, while it does tend to reward hard-work and performance, it leads to outcomes that are often seen as unjust, in which hard working and competent people can suffer through no fault of their own. A competent worker can work for a firm whose incompetent management makes it go out of business. A competent worker can work for a firm with competent -management, which fails when its products are made obsolete by advancing technology. Capitalism works by a process of creative destruction, in which firms open and close, hire and downsize, fail, and spin off in whole new directions, creating a large, changing number of winners, but also of people who lose. Bain Capital, which specialized in startups and in rescuing troubled assets, created an unusually large number of winners and losers, and it was tales of the latter—people whose firms were closed down by Bain Capital—that Ted Kennedy turned into the heartrending commercials that rescued his Senate seat in 1994 when Romney challenged him. And so it is the current project of the Obama campaign to separate the “creative” and “destructive” facets of capitalism and assign the destructive elements to Mitt Romney and Mitt Romney alone. If a firm he bought closed, it wasn’t because of market forces: He wanted to close it. Not only that, but he may have liked doing it. He’s a vulture and vampire capitalist, isn’t he? Case closed, the end.
But more than a few things are left out of this story, one being that while Romney sometimes made money when plants closed, he would have made more if they had succeeded, and had no incentive towards seeing them fail. Point number two is that there was nothing done by Romney or Bain that hadn’t been done many times over by Obama’s donors, such as Jonathan Lavine, an Obama bundler who headed Bain Capital in 2001 (after Romney had left), when Soptic’s plant closed. (Barack Obama has raised $152,000 in donations from Bain and its employees.) Point number three is that if employers are responsible for their employees’ lives seven years after the connection is severed, it stretches the idea of the social contract beyond all sustainability and raises the question of where it all ends. Can anyone morally fire anyone without making provisions for his health and well-being many years into the future? For how long must the former employee be covered? When are the obligations of the employer, moral and otherwise, considered fulfilled? If employers are to be held responsible for the health of their former workers’ families for years into the future, this is an expansion of the social contract that will make it impossible for commerce to survive. (Let us recall that General Motors began its long slide into bankruptcy when it stopped being a car company and became a retirement program with a car company attached to it.) Indeed, can anyone ever be fired at all?
And then, assuming that the Democrats are right, and employers are responsible for the lives of their ex-employees in perpetuity, the question of fairness intrudes. If Romney is tied to the destruction side of “creative destruction,” the creative side needs to weigh in.
Bain Capital surely created more firms and more jobs than were destroyed when it controlled them, and hired more people than it let go. If some people who lost jobs had the effects of these losses shadow their lives long after they lost them, then the people who got jobs, raises, promotions, and health care must also have benefited greatly years after the fact. People with jobs found themselves able to marry, buy houses, provide educations for their children that helped them realize their dreams and ambitions: By the standards employed by the Democrats and their media people, these were the consequences of Romney’s decisions and acts.
If Romney deserves blame for stunting the lives of some people, then he deserves credit for enriching the lives of others, who, without his far-ranging powers, might have led less happy and prosperous lives. Not to mention having had lives at all. How many people over the years, insured by companies saved or established by Romney, contracted cancer, were treated, and are now living long lives? Given the far-reaching Bain investments, and law of averages, their numbers must be in the thousands. And Mitt Romney “saved” every last one.
Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a columnist for the Washington Examiner.