By Robert Schlesinger |
As is so often the case in politics, the extent to which the Democrats' attacks on Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital will help the president score points will depend on how forcefully the Romney campaign fights back. There are a number of ways the decision to try to use the former Massachusetts governor's successful business record against him could backfire.
For one thing, the president's rhetoric comes alarmingly close to sounding like an indictment of the free-enterprise system. It also belies the president's claim that he has any understanding at all of how such a system works. To function efficiently, the private sector must include profit as well as loss. Suggesting otherwise reveals astounding ignorance about rudimentary economics—or worse yet, an attempt by the president of the United States to sell the American people a bill of goods wherein no companies will ever struggle, fail, or need to be restructured.
Romney's response should be to unapologetically double down. Of course his primary goal at Bain was to make money for his shareholders. The wonder of capitalism is that pursuing self-interested outcomes produces spillover benefits to society at large. Job creation is a byproduct of success at a business level; innovations lead not just to returns for investors but also to a higher standard of living for consumers; and wealth is created when people's needs can more economically, and therefore profitably, be met.
As the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, explained, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."
The Democrats are betting they can vilify Romney without appearing to condemn the free markets that have made the United States the most vibrant, affluent nation on the planet. It's an untenable position that depends on the public not thinking too carefully about it and the Republicans not calling them out. Romney should make absolutely certain that gamble is one the president comes to regret.
About Stephanie Slade Project Director at The Winston Group
Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College
Lara Brown Author of 'Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants'
Brad Bannon President of Bannon Communications Research