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Romney, Bain Capital, and the 2012 Election

12:00 AM, Jan 14, 2012 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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Romney, born to considerable wealth, with a picture-postcard family, always unruffled, hardly qualifies as one of these dashing, often eccentric heroes of capitalism. But neither is he that creation of liberal Hollywood, Gordon Gekko of “Greed is good” fame. He is a successful investor and good manager who, among other things, revived stationer Staples, which now employs over 70,000 workers, and Domino’s Pizza with 145,000 employees. He is close to succeeding in his almost decade-long quest for the Republican nomination and will oppose an incumbent president who has little use for bankers, and absolute distaste for “the rich,” alternately described by him as “millionaires and billionaires,” and any family earning more than $250,000 per year. It is Romney’s misfortune that his Republican colleagues have provided the president with enough video footage depicting the one-time Bain chief as the Darth Vader of American finance and a job destroyer to keep Romney on the defensive throughout the campaign, and to taint him with the brush that should be reserved for bailed-out, bonus-bearing bankers.

None of this is to argue that Romney’s stewardship of Bain Capital uniquely qualifies him for the presidency, although if voters think government is simply business writ large, and that the skill required to manage Bain is the skill needed to restructure government, Romney is their man. If they think an entirely different world view from that of Barack Obama is required, he might be their man, at least for the moderates to whom he appeals. Romney neither wants to shut down the government nor expand it, and probably would make an effort to shrink it a bit around the edges, quite a difference from Obama, whose expansionist instincts are clear and unhidden as he steers the U.S. towards the European social democratic model of a shrunken military, expanded welfare state, more regulation, smaller cars—you get the idea.

Two things are certain. First, running a private-equity firm is not a disqualification for the highest office in America, as might be the case with lobbying on behalf of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and calling for politicization of the court system (Gingrich); being unable to remember which government agencies one really hates and wants to eliminate (Perry); calling for moral standard-setting by the government to govern private individual behavior (Santorum); having no clear economic plan (Huntsman); or—how to put it—being plain weird (Ron Paul).

Second, none of this might matter. If Paul, rebuffed by the Republicans, decides to head the third-party, Libertarian ticket that is on the ballot in every state, he might siphon off as much as 6 percent of Romney’s vote according to an estimate by the Lindsey Group, virtually assuring Obama an extension of his stay in the White House. As might a significant, continued fall in the unemployment rate.

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Charles Krauthammer says we are in the midst of renegotiating our social contract. Pity that’s being done in the heat of a political campaign.

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