After battles over the precise nature of Mitt Romney's role at Bain Capital, it would appear his campaign biography is now that he was a successful business executive who built a fabulous job-creating machine which, the moment he stepped away from it, turned into the pits of Mordor. Rather than defend Bain's role in companies that outsourced jobs overseas and went bankrupt, the Romney campaign's response to stories that highlight such incidents has been to insist that Romney wasn't there as of February 1999 when he took a leave of absence to run the 2002 Winter Olympics. That was the basis for the campaign's demand on Thursday that the Boston Globe issue a correction to its report that Securities and Exchange Commission filings list Romney as CEO until 2002. (The request was denied.) It's also the basis for the campaign's request for a retraction from a Washington Post story reporting that Bain was an outsourcing pioneer. (That request was denied, too) The strategy seems to center on drawing a line between Good Bain (when Romney was there) and Bad Bain (when Romney wasn't). You might even get the impression that Romney didn't approve of what was happening at the company he founded after his departure. But that isn't the case.
Romney's private sector experience is supposed to be the most important thing on his resume. It's why he always says, "I know how the economy works." And while he hasn't said "Bain" much in interviews (in the first of two interviews Romney gave to Time's Mark Halperin, in December and May, Romney said the word "Bain" only once; in the second, he says its name twice), but Bain has played a central role in his career. Indeed, after Romney left for the Olympics — and his campaign implies, severed ties with decision-makers at Bain, Romney used his Bain connections to get corporate sponsors to rescue the Games. The Boston Phoenix's David S. Bernstein reported in 2007:
Utah billionaire Jon M. Huntsman ponied up a cool million dollars to the Olympics — and in July 2001, Bain Capital invested roughly a quarter-billion dollars in Huntsman’s international-holdings company. Huntsman is now a national finance co-chair for Romney’s presidential campaign.
Gateway, too, signed on as a sponsor; in September 2001, it made an agreement for unpaid consulting services from Bain Capital, in exchange for certain underwriting opportunities.
So it's not like Romney was down in Salt Lake, recoiling in horror from afar at what his underlings were doing in his absence. And why would he? Romney has never said he opposes outsourcing, and he's not alone. "He almost definitely considers it a net positive for the American (and world) economy," Salon's Alex Pareene writes."The fact is, most elected Democrats support policies that encourage outsourcing — on this there is basically universal consensus among the political and economic elite."
The major way Romney shows his business experience is the way he talks about it in empty corporatese. So when Halperin asked, for example, about Bain getting paid even when a company failed, Romney said hindsight is 20/20:
One of the benefits you get by hindsight is seeing an enterprise where it was originally successful and then became less successful, and we had profited early and then later the business wasn’t successful, that’s something you would hope would never happen.
In May, when Halperin first asked how his resume would help him create jobs, Romney scoffed, "Well that’s a bit of a question like saying, what have you learned in life that would help you lead?" After another question, Romney got the most specific he ever has on the issue, saying his experience with a steel company gave him an understanding of the role energy prices play. When given the chance to make the case for creative destruction -- the time-honored capitalist ideal that long-term growth is created when unproductive businesses and careers are culled to make way for the successful ones -- Romney passed it by. He said in the earlier interview:
I don’t think anyone could ever be anything other than terribly sad when an individual loses a job. In any case where I was involved in an investment and a company that was not successful, one would have to feel terrible about someone losing their job. My role, in the three, excuse me, the four enterprises I ran, is that we were able to add employment and grow those enterprises. We also invested in well over 100 different businesses and some of those jobs were lost. I feel terrible when that happens.
He's saying my investments grew jobs, it was those other guys who did the bad things. But in this case, that would be the people who he hired. Some might argue that Bad Bain is the price of Good Bain. But not Romney. Bad Bain is someone else's fault. In his New Hampshire victory speech, Romey said, "President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial." Well if so, Romney's not really coming to its defense.