by Gene Lyons forThe Times and Democrat Here’s the thing about privileged characters like Mitt Romney: they’ve never really been vetted, indeed rarely challenged. Say you’re a senior at a posh prep school in Michigan, for example, and you think it’d be fun to pick on the weakest kid in your class. So you get a bunch of guys to hold the gay kid down while you cut off his offensively long hair.
What happens? Well, if your father’s the governor of Michigan, nothing happens. A scholarship student from Detroit might have been expelled, but not somebody whose daddy ran an auto company. Years later, you can’t even recall the event, although none of the others ever forgot. Meanwhile, the tax-deductible endowment funds keep rolling in to the old alma mater.
It’s the way of the world.
This is not to deny that Mitt Romney’s a talented and enterprising fellow. Country club bars everywhere are decorated with well-born failures, cursing the IRS and muttering about the moral failings of the poor. Mitt could have been one of those. Instead, he’s a striver.
Nevertheless, for a man like Romney, the money functions like some sci-fi force field, protecting its owner, if not from the snares and vicissitudes of life, then definitely from everyday inconveniences.
People laugh at your jokes, funny or not. Nobody says what they really think. Subordinates kiss your posterior 24/7. Consequently, you never really know who you can trust. Are they deferring to you, or your money?
It can be a significant weakness. Romney’s strained affect, his awkward attempts to be seen as a “regular guy,” signal a certain discomfort with life inside the force-field. His life strategy, however, has been to amass ever more money and power, by almost any means technically legal.
Being Mitt Romney means never having to explain.
So when somebody actually calls his bluff, a guy like Romney tends to react badly -- first with a clumsy, easily refuted lie. Then with foot-stamping indignation that anybody’s allowed to question his word as a gentleman. My dear fellow, it’s simply not done.
The sheer political stupidity of the Romney campaign’s attempts to distance him from his career at Bain Capital can’t be overstated. Never mind that his entire case for the presidency rests upon the “job-creating” credentials his success at Bain supposedly give him.
The problem is that record is distinctly mixed. And Romney definitely doesn’t want to talk about it.
Stung by the Obama campaign’s focus on GS Industries, a Kansas City steel company Bain drove into bankruptcy in 2001, the Romney campaign sent out a debunking press release, Slate’s David Weigel noted, with bolded sentences in all caps: “The Bankruptcy And Layoffs At GS Industries All Occurred AFTER Governor Romney Had Left Bain Capital in February 1999.”
Down at the county courthouse, this is known as the some-other-dude-done-it defense. Never mind that Bain had acquired GS Industries for $8 million in 1993, leveraged the investment with debt equaling more than 10 times the company’s yearly income (paying itself a nifty $36 million dividend in 1994), then eventually walked away from a $554 million debt -- stiffing creditors, leaving 750 workers jobless, and sticking the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation with $44 million in unfunded liabilities.
Writing in Bloomberg.com, private equity banker Anthony Luzzatto Gardner dissects Bain’s “casino capitalism.”
“Romney was fabulously successful in generating high returns for [Bain] investors,” he explains. “He did so, in large part, through heavy use of tax-deductible debt, usually to finance outsized dividends for the firm’s partners and investors. When some of the investments went bad, workers and creditors felt most of the pain. Romney privatized the gains and socialized the losses.”
Heads he wins, tails you lose. That’s how Wall Street rolls.
So anyway, every GOP pundit on every cable TV talk show repeated Romney’s bogus alibi. Hey, all that dodgy stuff -- the bankruptcies, the mass firings, the factory closings, the investments in companies specializing in offshoring American jobs -- none of that happened on Mitt’s watch.
He had retired to run the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Cue patriotic music.
Except guess what? There’s no need to quibble over exactly when Romney “retired retroactively,” as campaign adviser Ed Gillespie memorably claimed after the Boston Globe found the Mittster’s signature on stacks of SEC documents filed by Bain up to three years after he’d supposedly cleaned out his cubicle and returned his restroom key.
The documents not only listed Romney as president, CEO and board chairman, but -- here’s the best part -- “sole shareholder” until 2003.
So who cares what day-to-day managerial decisions Mitt did or didn’t make during his sojourn in Utah? He OWNED Bain Capital, lock, stock and hedge funds. It was the principal source of his personal fortune.
Anybody who believes that evil trolls had somehow seized control and were making decisions about Mitt’s money without Mitt’s knowledge ...
Well, what won’t such persons believe?
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons firstname.lastname@example.org.