By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
He barely won the Iowa primary. He handily won New Hampshire. He’s going to win South Carolina next. So now we know the Republican nominee for president will be: Gordon Gekko.
And we also know what he stands for. In the 1987 film “Wall Street,” corporate raider Gekko told shareholders of Teldar Paper Company: “I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them!” He went on: “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works.”
See what I mean? In a textbook case of “life imitates art,” that’s the very same business philosophy espoused by the real-life candidate, Mitt Romney: “Greed is good.” It’s the perfect bumper sticker for the Romney campaign.
Am I being unfair in comparing Mitt Romney to the heartless Gordon Gekko? Not according to his fellow Republicans. As former CEO of Bain Capital, Romney argues that buying up companies and shutting them down is just the way capitalism works. But Newt Gingrich doesn’t buy that. He asks: “Is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of other people and walk off with the money?”
Romney further argues he was helping workers and investors alike. But Ron Paul disputes that. He points out that in a typical leveraged buy-out, “the wealth is taken from the middle class and it goes to the select few, who are the insiders.”
Romney calls it venture capitalism at work. But Rick Perry has another name for it. “I happen to think that companies like Bain Capital could have come in and helped these companies, if they truly were venture capitalists,” he told voters in Lexington, S.C. “But they’re not — they’re vulture capitalists.” Romney, of course, didn’t help his case by declaring, “I like being able to fire people.”
Imagine! We thought the Republican contest would center on a debate over Romneycare. Instead, it’s boiled down to an attack on corporate greed. Can capitalism go too far? Those are the same arguments used by Ted Kennedy against Mitt Romney in 1994. You expect to hear them from the leaders of the Occupy movement. But nobody expected them in a Republican primary.
Trying to shame or silence his critics, the Romney campaign accused Gingrich and others of trying to “swift-boat” the former Massachusetts governor — a theme quickly picked up by the media: “Is Gingrich swift-boating Romney?” But, as reporter Ari Berman points out in The Nation, that comparison is absurd.
There’s a big difference between the attacks on John Kerry’s war record in 2004 and the questions raised about Mitt Romney’s business record in 2012. The entire Swift Boat campaign was nothing but one big fat lie. But Gingrich and Perry are only telling the truth. Corporate predators like Bain Capital do, in fact, swoop in on distressed companies, leverage them with debt, strip them down, fire workers or export jobs, and then sell companies off for scrap — while investors walk away with huge profits.
Citing the success of Domino’s, Sports Authority and Staples, Romney brags about creating a “net 100,000 new jobs.” But he’s offered no proof of that claim, and his numbers don’t add enough. The 100,000 figure includes current employers of all three companies, hired long after Bain left the scene. And it doesn’t factor in the thousands of jobs Romney/Bain destroyed by looting other companies. Indeed, out of 77 companies taken over by Bain, the Wall Street Journal found that 22 percent had either filed for bankruptcy or simply shut their doors. The truth is, Romney was never a job creator. He was a wealth creator. And it’s a lie for him to suggest otherwise.
Just as it’s a lie to suggest that he ever lived in fear of getting a “pink slip.” As reported by the Boston Globe, Romney had a deal with Bain Capital that allowed him to return to his former job at his former salary if things didn’t work out. For him, there was zero financial risk.
Mitt Romney will soon emerge from the primaries as a successful, but badly-battered, candidate, which is great news for the Obama campaign. They won’t have to produce any new anti-Romney commercials for the general election. They can just air the same commercials run by Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry in the primary. Ain’t politics fun?
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