OBAMA IN BEDLAM: Tut-tutters decried!

MONDAY, JULY 16, 2012

PART 1—THE SAYINGS OF TUT: Here at THE HOWLER, we got in somewhere near the ground floor.

Starting in January, we repeatedly begged for more reporting about Mitt Romney’s conduct at Bain. In all honesty, we didn’t get a lot of takers around the mainstream press corps or in the liberal world.

To this day, have you seen a fuller report about the “underfunding” (looting?) of the pension fund at that Kansas City steel mill? Just so you’ll know, the underfunding and the rest of the looting started in the mid-1990s, when Romney was plainly at Bain.

We didn’t get many takers; we still don't fully understandwhat happened in those instances. But now that Dear Leader has gone down this road, all good liberals know we should say the exact same things he says! Meanwhile, the liberal world’s most valuable player is criticizing those who (allegedly) disagree—without even telling us who he is talking about.

That most valuable player is Paul Krugman, without whom we liberals would know very little. In today’s column, he casts himself in the role of King Tut as he denounces the so-called tut-tutters who don’t repeat what Leader says:
KRUGMAN (7/16/12): A lot of people inside the Beltway are tut-tutting about the recent campaign focus on Mitt Romney’s personal history—his record of profiting even as workers suffered, his mysterious was-he-or-wasn’t-he role at Bain Capital after 1999, his equally mysterious refusal to release any tax returns from before 2010. Some of the tut-tutters are upset at any suggestion that this election is about the rich versus the rest. Others decry the personalization: why can’t we just discuss policy?

And neither group is living in the real world.
Plainly, Candidate Romney’s basic proposals are designed to service the massively wealthy. Inside the Beltway, handmaidens to massive wealth may want to avoid that fact, just as Krugman says.

But is it true that some of these inside-the-Beltway tut-tutters want to talk about nothing but policy? If so, who are these people—these folk who have fled the real world? Krugman names no names in his column. Nor did he name any names in the recent blog post which foreshadowed this column, where he had all the time in the world and a big shipload of space:
KRUGMAN (7/14/12): There is, predictably, a mini-backlash against the Obama campaign’s focus on Bain. Some of it is coming from the Very Serious People, who think that we should be discussing their usual preoccupations. But some of it is coming from progressives, some of whom are apparently uncomfortable with the notion of going after Romney the man and wish that the White House would focus solely on Romney’s policy proposals.

This is remarkably naive.
In his blog post, this second group was described as “progressives.” Here too, there were no names.

Who is the Krugster talking about? Is he referring to to Bill Clinton, Cory Booker, Ed Rendell, Steve Rattner—the people who rose in protest back in May when the Obama campaign tried to talk about Bain?

We don’t think that’s who Krugman means, but it’s always possible. Here at THE HOWLER, we noted the several ridiculous things Bill Clinton said as he tried to sand the edges off his pro-Bain remarks (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/11/14). But few “liberal leaders” wanted to follow—and some just kept playing it dumb on this general topic.

As recently as June 18, Rachel Maddow was still playing it dumb about the folk who told Obama to shut his trap about the great people at Bain. So was Frank Rich, her guest. Sorry, we just don’t believe this:
RICH (6/18/12): You know, what happens on, with the Democrats is Obama makes a really rather genteel ad attacking Bain, not nearly as vicious as Newt Gingrich’s ad attacking Bain, and you have Cory Booker and Ed Rendell and the whole sort of political establishment saying, “Oh, this is frightening the horses.”

He should—I feel the Democrats, if they want to win, actually have to go after this radical party for which Romney is essentially a front man.


People are saying, you know, Obama is going negative so early. Both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in their re-election campaigns, their second campaigns, began earlier than Obama did. They began in March and April. Obama didn’t begin until May. And so, this kind of squeamishness, is it amnesia? Is it—I don’t get it.

MADDOW: I would understand why the Beltway, which I think sort of leans conservative—that’s my take on it. But the Beltway leans conservative, and the Republican establishment would say, “Tut tut tut. Don’t you dare go negative.”

I don’t understand why Democrats would say that. I mean, I think that— Cory Booker is a friend of mine. I believe that he very legitimately and passionately wants President Obama to win.

RICH: Sure.

MADDOW: I think that Ed Rendell feels the same way. I think they are both loyal Democrats and they’re relatively strategic guys. But why is there a Democratic instinct to say, “No, no, no. Don’t do what might work if it’s unseemly?”

RICH: I think some of it, in this case, is tied up with what is thought of the Obama brand. I hate that word. But “hope and change” and the feeling is, “Boy, that really worked and we don’t want to mar that.” We don’t want to—it’s so pure, it’s so lovely, it’s so idealistic, it’s all of the things that a lot of people, including me, liked. But you can’t fight the last war. That was four years ago.

MADDOW: But that last war also had a lot of negativity about John McCain it in.

RICH: It did. Remember the ad with McCain couldn’t remember how many homes he owned?
It continued from there, but it got no better. Maddow simply couldn’t imagine why her friend had done what he did. She also defended Rendell, her MSNBC colleague, thus preserving the corporate brand.

Rich was puzzled too. “I don’t get it,” he generically said. Why had these loyal Democrats done this? The only explanation he could conjure involved the love of "hope and change."

Our question: Do you believe that Maddow and Rich were baffled by the opposition from the likes of Booker? We don’t live inside Booker’s head, of course. We can’t tell you why he said he was "nauseated" by this first approach at Bain. But by June 18, endless analysts had explained the probable reason for his apostasy—Booker is owned by big Wall Street donors, whose feathers mustn’t be ruffled before his next campaign.

Similar analyzes had been widely advanced regarding the motives of Clinton and Rendell. Despite that, Maddow was still thoroughly puzzled. She couldn’t even imagine a reason. Rich seemed bollixed too.

Maddow defended her dear lovely friend for the third separate time on this program, dumbing her viewers down in the process and obscuring the role that is played by huge money in our broken politics. But then, a lot of people have played it dumb about Bain Capital—and that process continues today, even as we fall into line behind Dear Leader’s new tack.

We’ll take a guess: Since May, when Booker and Clinton pushed back, negotiations have transpired behind the scene. The White House has re-launched against Bain knowing that these delicate souls won’t pipe up again. In that context, all us liberals have jumped to our feet, repeating the things Dear Leader is saying.

Krugman is trying to silence tut-tutters, although he hasn’t been willing to say who these concern trolls are.

Which “progressives” have been “tut-tutting” about the topic of Bain? Which progressives have been saying we should talk about nothing but policy? Krugman’s complaint arrives without names; in that sense, it’s extremely fuzzy. But then, his analysis is a bit fuzzy too—although it’s nowhere near as fuzzy and foolish as some of the current attacks.

Here at THE HOWLER, we have begged for reporting on Bain. Now that Dear Leader has taken our lead on the trail, we ditto-heads are repeating his claims. But good lord! A great deal that is now being said displays the empty soul and empty head of our thoroughly broken public discourse. This is especially true of the feigned confusion on wide display concerning Romney’s tenure at Bain.

Of course, feigned confusion has virtually defined our public discourse over the past twenty years. If it weren’t for feigned confusion, would we have any discourse at all?

We think Romney’s behavior at Bain should be reported and discussed—although, truth to tell, we wouldn’t vote against a progressive candidate who had a similar record. We think his behavior should be discussed—as long as it’s done in a truthful, coherent manner.

But truthful behavior is almost beyond the scope of the modern press corps. Through no particular fault of his own, Obama is campaigning in Bedlam. With respect to this, we’ll take a wild guess:

A modern nation simply can’t prosper when it conducts its business this way. We’ll discuss this broken culture all week, keying off the current discussion of Bain.

Tomorrow, the editors say they’re confused. They may even be telling the truth. They may be just as confused as they say.

We don’t mean that as a compliment.

Tomorrow: Feigned confusion


  1. "We think Romney’s behavior at Bain should be reported and discussed—although, truth to tell, we wouldn’t vote against a progressive candidate who had a similar record. We think his behavior should be discussed—as long as it’s done in a truthful, coherent manner."

    Sure. And of course, Bob will decide if the manner is truthful and coherent enough.

    And "meanwhile" here is what he says about Romney's off-shore holdings:

    "Meanwhile, is something actually wrong with the fact that Romney once had a Swiss bank account? We don’t know, but we feel unsure that the public will care."

    Here's a clue. The purpose of going after Romney on Bain is exactly the same as for mentioning his Swiss bank account, as well as the expansion of his California mansion to include an elevator for a multi-story garage to shelter all the cars he owns.

    Whether or not you want to admit it, it is very key to Obama's re-election to define the guy as a CEO who would buy his kid a brand-new Mercedes for a birthday present the day after he laid off 10,000 people. In short, completely out of touch with how the middle class actually lives, which makes his expressed concerns and plans for "creating jobs" ring rather hollow.

    And you won't have to make up stories to do that. But you don't do it by picking and choosing among the stories that meet Bob Somerby's approval. You go in with all guns blazing.

  2. It's possible, but highly unlikely, that a progressive candidate would have made his bones as a corporate raider, preying on the pension funds of trouble companies. But I guess I might vote for such a person, if they were to exist.
    Bay Buchanan was reduced to defending Romney's ethics on the basis of legality, and that's a good sign. Krugman's comment about policy was probably meant at least half tongue in cheek, and most of us understand that money has corrupted both political parties.
    Pretty much treading water today.....

  3. "We think Romney’s behavior at Bain should be reported and discussed—although, truth to tell, we wouldn’t vote against a progressive candidate who had a similar record"

    This is the kind of integrity that keeps me reading this site.

    Greg -- Bain has never been a corporate raider.
    Corporate raiders buy companies against their will. OTOH Bain works with companies that have come to them --companies that want to use Bain's expertise.

    1. "Bain works with companies" would make more sense if we didn't pretend that "companies" were the actors.

      You really mean to say "majority shareholders," "senior executives" and/or "boards of directors" of companies.

      Did Bain "work with" the folks who actually, you know, worked and had their livelihoods in employment at these companies?

      No, not so much.

      Your distinction here is one without a difference for the majority of workers.

    2. David in Cal also neglects to note that the entire Bain business model is based on a tax break: the deductibility of the money it borrowed on these companies' books and for which it wasn't on the hook.

      True, it's one's patriotic duty to exploit every loophole you can put into the law with the best lobbyists money can buy -- Ann Romney's tap-dancing horse is no doubt worth every dollar to Uncle Sam of the $77,000 deduction the Romney's took on it -- but an entire business model, based on a tax break?

      So much for the free enterprise system and the best tax code money can buy.

    3. Yes, many workers lost their jobs in successful Bain turnarounds. OTOH without Bain's expert help, many of their client companies would have folded. Then all the employees would have lost their jobs. But, that's not really the point.

      Bain was engaged by companies, in effect, by stockholders. Stockholders own the company; workers don't. That's what private property means. Working as an employee doesn't confer ownership. The stockholders have right to hire experts to work for their benefit.

      The real key is Romney's competence. He built an organization that was excellent at its stated purpose of turning around troubled companies. He also did an outstanding job of getting the Salt Lake City Olympic games into shape after an international bribery scandal. His record leads me to believe that he will succeed in purposes of the job of President, such as getting a lot more jobs for Americans.

    4. AnonymousJuly 16, 2012 7:11 PM -- first of all, there's a lot more to Bain's success than taking advantage of the tax law. Tax advantages were available to everyone, but others were less successful than Bain was at turning companies around.

      Second, Bain worked with the law as it existed. What else would you have them do? Particularly failing companies are in no position to eschew legal steps that will save them.

      BTW I forgot to mention in the prior post that senior executives were among the employees who lost their jobs in Bain turnarounds. That's always the case. I myself was part of two successful turnarounds. In both cases, most of the senior executives lost their jobs within a few years.

    5. Oh, please, David. The law allows this tax break because people like Romney and businesses like Bain lobby for it. Why does Romney pay a ridiculous 14% in Federal tax? Why is unearned income taxed at a much lower rate than actual labor? Why can Romney tax a $77,000 for his show horses?

      For the same reason Romney can evidently avoid taxes by moving money offshore -- because the system is fixed by the people who want to take advantages of these loopholes.

      Pretending that these tax laws are somehow a law of nature and inevitable is just a little disingenuous, no?

    6. "Bain was engaged by companies, in effect, by stockholders. Stockholders own the company; workers don't. That's what private property means. Working as an employee doesn't confer ownership."

      Actually, there are many workers' cooperatives in capitalist U.S.A., which are run by workers who share in the profits. Oh, and in capitalist Germany, unions have a say in hiring and firing the board of directors.

  4. Sorry you don't like the tax law, AnonymousJuly 16, 2012 7:53 PM. However, there's no evidence at all that Romney or Bain played a role in how the law reads. Blaming Romney because "people like Romney" lobbied for such laws is a pretty thin accusation.

    You're probably right that certain special interests lobbied for our existing tax laws. In fact, most of our law exist because someone lobbied for them. Nevertheless, all any individual or business can do is to follow the law as it's written.

    BTW I have no doubt that all wealthy people use expert tax planners whose job it is to minimize their tax (and, of course, to follow the law.) I would expect that Kerry and his wife, the Kennedys, the Pelosis, etc. have taken comparable steps to minimize their income tax.

    1. Since Romney's central campaign plank is lowering his own taxes by several million dollars a year, and since he's associated himself with this priority for many, many years, and for lower taxes on unearned income, I think it's fair to say that he bears at substantial responsibility for inequities in the tax code which favor people like him, whether or not the Bain loopholes or offshore account loopholes preceded Bain. Romney has been, after all, a public figure for many years. He's never advocated for closing these loopholes. And promoting tax inequity, and worsening it substantially, is about the only thing he's running on.

      As for Kerry, the Kennedys, Pelosi -- I don't know if in fact they've avail themselves of off-shore tax dodges, $100 million IRAs, tax deductions for show horses, etc. If so, throw the book at them too.

      None of them, however, voted for the Republican tax cuts which have so deepened wealth equality. That's not much, but it's better than nothing. Or better than Republican.

    2. David, the question isn't whether Romney had anything to do with the Bush tax cuts then. The question is what he wants to do about them NOW.

      And he's been quite clear that you'd can't tax the rich because they are the "job creators". He's said it over and over again. Warmed over, supply-side, trickle-down economics that led to two historic recessions -- one at the end of the Reagan administration that lasted until 1992, and this one.

      In the meantime, Clinton restored some sort of semblance of progressivity to the income tax code, and we had the longest peacetime economic expansion in history, PLUS surplus budgets.

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