David Brooks apparently believes that buying distressed companies, loading them up with debt, raiding their pensions, busting unions and outsourcing their jobs is the equivalent of someone being "the corporate version of a personal trainer." Here's David Gregory asking him about his recent column where he said just that:
GREGORY: David Brooks, you’re writing in part about just the-- the gamesmanship of the campaign, but it goes to something I think Michelle was saying about a real focus on alternatives. What the vision is? Why Mitt Romney wants to be president, after all? And you wrote this in a-- in a column on Tuesday that I’ll put up on the screen. You talk about his capitalist, you know, narrative. “It’s been the business of his life to take companies that were mediocre and sclerotic and try to make them efficient and dynamic. It has been his job to be the corporate version of a personal trainer: take people who are puffy and self-indulgent and whip them into shape.” You write about Romney, “That’s his selling point: rigor and productivity. If he can build a capitalist vision around that, he’ll thrive. If not, he’s a punching bag.” Is he more of a punching bag right now over releasing his taxes, o-- o-- over the years in his experience at Bain?
MR. BROOKS: Yeah, releasing the taxes won’t help. I-- I don’t care about the issue particularly. Can anybody think about a president who was either qualified or disqualified by some of the tax reform? That is irrelevant. What’s relevant is who the guy is? He has an amazing personal story. His family was really an (Unintelligible) going across the West, poverty, building an empire, poverty, building an empire. He can’t talk about it because it involves Mormonism. He is personally a decent guy. For some reason, he’s not willing to talk about it. He’s a hidden man. And so, one of the turning points in this campaign is when he comes out, and if he can come out, and I don’t know why they’re waiting so long.
The second thing is, as Michelle said, people are-- people-- I personally find this an incredibly consequential election and incredibly boring election because the two campaign staffs, they’re on their iPhones, they’re responding to whatever the campaign-- other campaign did five minutes ago and the rest of us just don’t care.
Both the Booman Tribune and The New Republic featured articles earlier this week explaining why Brooks' advice for Romney might not go over so well with most voters.
David Brooks' latest piece is quite offensive. It's also grossly inaccurate. [...]
So, now the president of the preeminent capitalist country in the world does not represent capitalism. How dishonest can you get? The president is saying that we should not incentivize plant closings and outsourcing through the tax code, and that we ought to have more reasonable CEO compensation. He's also suggesting that vulture capitalists like Mitt Romney have enriched themselves by loading up profitable companies with debt and fees until they go bankrupt. Where's the efficiency in that?
But we're getting to "efficiency."
Romney is going to have to define a vision of modern capitalism. He’s going to have to separate his vision from the scandals and excesses we’ve seen over the last few years. He needs to define the kind of capitalist he is and why the country needs his virtues.
Let’s face it, he’s not a heroic entrepreneur. He’s an efficiency expert. It has been the business of his life to take companies that were mediocre and sclerotic and try to make them efficient and dynamic. It has been his job to be the corporate version of a personal trainer: take people who are puffy and self-indulgent and whip them into shape.
That’s his selling point: rigor and productivity. If he can build a capitalist vision around that, he’ll thrive. If not, he’s a punching bag.
Good luck going into blue collar America and telling people that you're an "efficiency expert" who practices the kind of virtuous capitalism that puts rigor and productivity over the interests of the workers. But it's not even true. Mitt Romney was not a venture capitalist or an efficiency expert. He feasted on companies. A bankrupt company is not an outsourced company. It's just broke, with a broken pension plan and unpaid vendors.
For people who have trouble understanding complex business schemes, this visual representation will help you understand how Romney earned a quarter of a billion dollars in only fifteen years.
[oldembed src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5ydqjqZ_3oc" width="420" height="315" resize="1" fid="21"]
(Warning, video not safe for work.)
And from The New Republic: The Problem With David Brooks’ Advice For Romney:
David Brooks has a rather melancholy offering today, framing the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital as the inevitable move of a struggling incumbent -- a move that Romney is inexplicably unready to counter. Brooks, like many more orthodox conservatives in recent days, wishes that Romney would respond to the attacks with a more forthright, self-assured defense of the world of American business, rather than trying so frantically to distance himself from Bain’s activities after his sorta-departure in 1999. [...]
But here’s the thing: once upon a time, Romney did try to sell the "capitalist vision." In 1994, when Ted Kennedy’s campaign started hitting Romney over unsavory Bain deals such as the Ampad takeover in Indiana, Romney had this to say, according to The Real Romney, the definitive new biography by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman: "This is not fantasyland. This is the real world. And in the real world, there is nothing wrong with companies trying to compete, trying to stay alive, trying to make money."
Well, we know how that went. Kennedy kept hitting Romney over Bain and ended up winning by 17 points despite that year’s Republican wave. So it’s perhaps not surprising that in Romney’s next campaign, in 2002, he responded to Shannon O’Brien’s Bain attacks not with theories of creative destruction but with the excuse that is now again under scrutiny: that the deals she was talking about had gone down after he sorta-left Bain in 1999.
But here’s the bigger reason why Romney is unlikely to take up Brooks’ advice and "define the capitalist he is" as separate and superior to the unattractive sorts that the country has been confronted with these past few years: Bain Capital’s sort of capitalism specialized in exactly the sort of stuff that strikes many Americans as so unappealing and unfair about the world of high finance. Brooks focuses on Obama’s attacks on Bain’s ventures into outsourcing, attacks that can indeed be challenged in light of the widespread acceptance of outsourcing and off-shoring across American business, including by firms and figures that Obama touts as success and allies, such as General Electric and Jeffrey Immelt. But Romney and Bain’s problems go well beyond off-shoring. As a comprehensive new Vanity Fair piece describes, the primary critique of Bain is the way it loaded up companies it bought with debt and slashed workers’ pay and benefits, as a precursor to paying its partners huge dividends regardless of the companies’ performance; the primary critique of Romney himself is the way he used havens like the Cayman Island and Bermuda to gain tax advantages for his outsized income from these deals. Read on...