Part 2—Endlessly feigning confusion: Does Obama care about outsourcing?
“Probably not,” says David Brooks, in today’s New York Times. Here’s what Brooks says in our hard-copy Times. On-line, results may differ:
BROOKS (7/17/12): Does Obama believe any of this? Probably not. There’s no real evidence that, when he’s off the campaign trail, he has any problem with outsourcing and offshoring. He’s lavishly praised people like Steve Jobs who were prominent practitioners. He’s hired people like Jeffrey Immelt of G.E., whose company embodies the upsides of globalization. His economic advisers have generally touted the benefits of globalization even as they worked to help those who are hurt by its downsides.Does that make sense? We can’t really say. On Saturday, Matt Yglesias made a similar presentation at Slate, saying he’d offer more pensees during the week. One way or the other, we hope he keeps his promise.
The Obama campaign has is taking this tack because it is trying to hang globalization and creative destruction around Romney’s neck. Just as Republicans spent years promising voters that they could have tax cuts forever, now the Democrats are promising voters that they can have all the benefits of capitalism without the downsides, like outsourcing.
Below, you see a chunk of what Yglesias said. In his fuller text, he echoes Brooks’ view about Obama and outsourcing—but please note something else. With great ease, he removes the mystification which surrounds Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain after 1999:
YGLESIAS (7/14/12): Stipulate that Romney somehow had nothing to do with running a company of which he was the CEO and sole shareholder. Does he think, in retrospect, that his subordinates did something wrong by offshoring jobs? Clearly he didn't, which highlights the absurdity of his claims not to have been responsible. It's true that he wasn't running the [company] on a day-to-day basis, but he really was titular CEO and had Bain been doing something he deemed outrageous he could and should have stepped in to stop them. But he doesn't believe that. And what's more, all indications are that Barack Obama also doesn't think Bain was doing anything wrong...Good God! How easily Yglesias describes Romney’s status at Bain during the disputed years from 1999 through 2001! On a day-to-day basis, he wasn’t running the company, Yglesias says. But he was still Bain’s CEO (and owner). Presumably, he could (and should) have stepped in if he thought Bain was doing something wrong.
All across the mainstream press corps, the hacks and the hustlers have been scratching their heads about this rather simple state of affairs. They've puzzled about Romney’s status at Bain during these deeply confusing years (examples to follow).
Yglesias make the situation sound remarkably simple. Romney wasn’t running Bain day-to-day. But as Bain’s owner, he could have stepped in to reverse decisions he found outrageous or wrong.
We assume Yglesias is basically right on these basic points—and we note how easy this is to explain. Why have so many journalists labored so hard, trying to puzzle this out?
On an individual basis, we can’t answer that question. In fact, many of our mainstream journalists are quite easily confused. It may be that they’re truly puzzled by Romney’s status at Bain during this period.
That said, some major journalists seem to be trying to spread confusion. Yesterday, in yesterday's editorial, the New York Times wrote this:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (7/16/12): Mr. Romney’s descriptions of when he left Bain have been erratic and self-serving. In 2002, when he needed to show he was still a Massachusetts resident, he denied he had quit in 1999, saying he had taken a leave of absence to run the Olympics committee. A series of documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Committee show that Bain certainly didn’t describe him as absent after 1999.“Now that Bain has been accused,” Romney says he had no management role after 1999? This construction conveys the impression that Romney has been shifting his story, the way slippery liars so constantly do.
A former Bain managing director, Edward Conard, said on MSNBC Sunday that Mr. Romney remained C.E.O. “legally” so he could negotiate his generous exit deal.
But now that Bain has been accused of helping other companies outsource jobs overseas, laying off steel company employees and wiping out their pensions, Mr. Romney says he had no management role after 1999. A Kansas City steel plant that Bain bought in 1993 under Mr. Romney’s control, for example, went bankrupt in 2001, costing 750 workers their jobs and pensions. After the Obama campaign made an ad featuring several of the angry workers, the Romney campaign said he couldn’t be blamed because he left Bain in 1999.
But here Romney is in October 2002, in a debate with Shannon O’Brien, the Democratic nominee for governor of Massachusetts. O’Brien asks a very good question. Romney answers in the way the Times says he has just conjured “now:”
O’BRIEN (10/02): When you cut people’s health care benefits, cut their pension benefits and closed the plant, it has become known that your company made $102 million in profits from the sale of that company, from dismantling that company. My question to you is, couldn’t you have made $80 million instead of $102 million and helped keep people in their health care benefits for a little bit longer or extended their pension benefits?We think that exchange comes from the final gubernatorial debate on October 29, 2002. But as you can see from that exchange, there is nothing new about Romney’s stance—and there is nothing especially new about the known facts of this case.
ROMNEY: I was off at the Olympics at the time—
O’BRIEN: Are you going to answer the question?
ROMNEY: I was at the Olympics when that occurred.
O’BRIEN: Are you going to answer the question? The fact is you were still signing documents as CEO of the company while you were away. As a matter of fact, in the summer of 2001, when you were leaving the Olympics, you made a statement in the paper that in the summer of 2001, you were finally relinquishing 100 percent control of your position in Bain. And so, apparently you hadn’t relinquished that beforehand.
Starting in 1999, Romney was living in Utah, where he was running the Salt Lake City Olympics. But he was still Bain’s CEO (and owner) and he was still signing documents.
That very morning, in 2002, these familiar old facts were spelled out in Boston’s two major daily newspapers. Yvonne Abraham’s report appeared in the Boston Globe—almost ten years ago:
ABRAHAM (10/29/02): Romney, who was CEO of Bain Capital until 2001, has repeatedly said he was on leave from the company in 1994, when strikes erupted at Ampad's now-closed Indiana paper plant, and again in 2001, when GST Steel, a Kansas City plant, laid off workers and closed.Just as it ever was! Romney was CEO of Bain through 2001. But according to Romney, he wasn’t actively managing the company after 1999, though he sometimes signed documents.
Yesterday, his campaign released a letter from the former CEO of GST, absolving Romney of any responsibility for the plant's closing. The campaign also produced a letter from Bain's lawyers, saying Romney was not actively involved with Bain after Feb. 11, 1999, even though he was sometimes called on to sign Bain's SEC filings.
Is that a confusing state of affairs? We’d have to say it isn’t. As everyone except major journalists knows, many people own entities which they don’t actively manage. Examples:
If you perform at a comedy club, the owner may pick you up at the airport and drive you to your hotel. Or the owner may be in Bora Bora, where he’s been living for years.
Sometimes, baseball owners actively run their teams. (They’re often described as “meddling” owners.) In other instances, owners of teams leave that task to others.
Duh. An owner doesn’t necessarily manage his business. Nothing is confusing about this, until “journalists” take a rooting interest in a White House campaign.
At that point, everything gets confusing! The confusion can be extended for years. Our journalists are expert at feigning confusion. It may be their greatest skill.
What did Romney do at Bain? We’d like to see more reporting on that, as we’ve said since the start of the year.
Does Obama “believe” the charges he’s making? That’s part of the story too.
But that editorial in the Times struck us as highly misleading. Meanwhile, we’d have to say that many pundits are feigning a boatload of confusion about Romney’s status at Bain.
From 1999 through 2001, Romney was still the owner of Bain. Presumably, he was legally responsible for the various things Bain did. Presumably, he could have stepped in if he thought Bain’s decisions were wrong.
On the other hand, Romney was living in Utah. Presumably, he wasn’t making Bain’s day-to-day decisions, although more facts could emerge (or be invented).
Whatever one thinks of Romney and Bain, this basic outline just isn’t confusing. Until our “journalists” start feigning confusion, as they so skillfully do.
Tomorrow: Collins and Blow—and more