NY Mag's Jonathan Chait Backs Away from Obama's Bain Attacks
Jonathan Chait was pretty excited about the Boston Globe's front page story on Bain Capital yesterday. The Globe
report held the momentary promise of enabling Obama's toughest attacks
on Romney to be judged, (or rather re-adjudicated) by fact checkers at
the Post and FactCheck.org. Everything hinged on when Romney left the
The Boston Globe today...reports that Romney has been lying about when he left Bain
Capital. This is utterly crucial. Both the fact-checking columns base
their conclusions on Romney’s claim that he left Bain in 1999. Obama’s
ads are misleading, both say, because they hold Romney accountable for
things Bain did after 1999. The revelation that Romney was actively
managing Bain renders both those judgments moot.
But today Chait has reversed himself and is clearly trying to climb off the Globe's bandwagon. Where yesterday he claimed that Romney lied, today he offers a more reflective post on "What's True and False in Obama's Bain Attacks." It's not very hard to figure out the false part, though as we'll see in a moment the true part is much more elusive:
President Obama and his allies...have attacked Romney’s record
itself. And what they’re saying is, on the basis of the facts available
to us, untrue...
The ads attacking Romney are based on pure conjecture. Obama has an ad saying of Romney, “he shipped jobs to China and Mexico.” But Bain Capital did those things after Romney stopped running the company.
So Obama's attacks and his ads are false. That much is clear and I
guess we can offer some credit to Chait for admitting as much, despite
his initial eagerness to believe otherwise. But the headline promised
more than a correction. It promised something true in Obama's Bain
attacks. So where is the true part?
The main point is that the role of business is different than the role
of government — even if you deny that businesses have social
responsibilities, government still does.
First, I'm not sure that has been a part of Obama's ads except in some "emanations of the penumbra" sense. But the real problem is that
Chait is assuming the thing at issue. There's no doubt that government
has social responsibilities, if by that you mean national defense, the
courts, and infrastructure that promotes the general welfare in the
broadest sense. What, it seems to me, we have been arguing about for the
last four years is the extent of that commitment.
Barack Obama has pushed for a different
definition of government's social responsibilities. Are we committed to viewing health insurance as a right? Are
we committed to providing two years of unemployment benefits to
everyone who loses a job? Are we committed to food stamps for one out of
seven Americans and free government phones as well? More to the point,
are we committed to these things even if we're $15 trillion in debt and
sinking deeper every year? The argument over those questions isn't over. The 2010 election (and the current
situation in Europe) make that clear. But Chait's explanation of how this argument works against Romney politically is telling:
Romney’s political problem is that the changes to the business
world he helped unleash are unpopular. Whether or not the old world of
benevolent corporations of the sort his father ran are justifiable or
can survive in a global economy, people liked them.
People do like free stuff. It's a conclusion that is rarely in danger
of contradiction. The problem of course is that the free stuff the government is giving away is not really free; the cost is merely shifted to someone else. Democrats, especially in this election, claim that someone
is "the rich," but in reality there aren't nearly enough rich people or
companies to pay for everything we're currently giving away. The people
who will really be stuck with the bill are future generations.
The notion that
businesses have no obligation save making money for their shareholders
is a hard sell, both conceptually and in the practical outcomes it
creates, like mass layoffs. Romney is attempting to portray his business
experience as “creating jobs,” but he was actually in the business of
creating wealth. Obama has every right to expose that contradiction. He doesn’t have a right to make things up in the process.
Hold on to your hats! Romney is a capitalist, not a New Deal progressive.
Looking at the state of the budget and the national debt, some might say
that's exactly what we need right now. In any case, even Chait agrees
that the thin reed of Romney's capitalism can't justify the
intentionally dishonest ads coming out of the Obama campaign.