Corporations and context

After an uncomfortable shouting match with hecklers in Iowa this morning, Mitt Romney explained why he’s unwilling to raise taxes on corporations to protect entitlements: “Corporations are people, my friend.” It’s a line that’s starting to generate some attention (and mockery).

Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesperson for the Republican presidential candidate, is arguing the context makes a difference: “Do folks think corporations are buildings? They’re people who incorporate to conduct business. They create jobs and hire more people.” (Funny, Fehrnstrom and the Romney campaign have never cared much about context before.)

I certainly get the point here. Romney, in his awkward and tone-deaf sort of way, was trying to say he doesn’t want to ask corporations to pay more taxes, because that would mean asking those within the corporations to pay more taxes.

That’s a debate worth having on the merits — it’s about tax policy, not the personhood status of a legal corporate entity — but it raises a related point: why does Mitt Romney believe corporations can’t be subjected to tax increases, but they can be broken up and sold for parts to make Romney rich?

What Romney skips [when talking about his private-sector background] is his experience in eliminating jobs. It’s a facet of his career that presents a particular challenge for the Republican primary frontrunner: Tough business decisions don’t necessarily translate into good politics.

As head of private equity firm Bain Capital LLC, Romney was the lead deal-maker, buying and selling companies to make money for investors. Whether companies boomed or filed for bankruptcy, the Boston-based firm found profits for Romney, its other executives and investors.

Or as Stephen Colbert explained:

“You see, Romney made a Mittload of cash using what’s known as a leveraged buyout. He’d buy a company with ‘money borrowed against their assets, groomed them to be sold off and in the interim collect huge management fees.’ Once Mitt had control of the company, he’d cut frivolous spending like ‘jobs,’ ‘workers,’ ’employees,’ and ‘jobs.’ […]

“Because Mitt Romney knows just how to trim the fat. He rescued businesses like Dade Behring, Stage Stories, American Pad and Paper, and GS Industries, then his company sold them for a profit of $578 million after which all of those firms declared bankruptcy. Which sounds bad, but don’t worry, almost no one worked there anymore.

“Besides, a businessman can’t be weighed down with a bleeding heart. As one former Bain employee put it, ‘It was very clinical…. Like a doctor. When the patient is dead, you just move on to the next patient.'”

Romney slashed American jobs as if his career depended on it — and it did. Frank Rich recently explained, “In [his 1994 Senate] campaign, Romney was stalked by a ‘Truth Squad’ of striking workers from a Marion, Indiana, paper plant who had lost jobs, wages, health care, and pensions after Ampad, a Bain subsidiary, took control. Ampad eventually went bankrupt, but Bain walked away with $100 million for its $5 million investment. It was an all-too-typical Romney story.”

“Corporations are people”? In this little figure of speech, wouldn’t that make Mitt Romney a metaphorical serial killer?