Will Mitt Romney’s Talent For “Creative Destruction” Pass for Successful Capitalism?

Let’s be honest.

If you’ve ever competed for a promotion with someone else in your company and won, you probably did not shed a lot of tears for your co-worker who lost out.
For that matter, if you’ve ever been so fortunate as to advance into the job of your boss when he was fired, I suspect little time was spent on your part feeling badly for the economic hardships being thrust on the fired employee’s family as you bestow the benefits of your advancement on your own wife and kids.

So, is it really fair that we criticize Mitt Romney for making lots of money at the expense of the many families who lost their source of support through Bain Capital’s dismantling of companies?

It is not. Each and every one of us tends to put the aspirations and desires of our families at the top of our priorities. Thus, when Romney does this, I don’t know why that should make him such a bad guy.

On the other hand, each and every one of us is not running for president of the United States.

The problem of Romney’s candidacy is not so much that he made tons of money trading, to some extent, on the misery of others. The problem is that he has come to represent a brand of American capitalism that is certainly not our country’s economic system putting its best food forward. Indeed, it is a brand of capitalism that rewards the most cynical and negative of business impulses where things are ripped down for the financial benefit of the destroyer without so much as a nod to any benefit to our society as a whole.

Is this the mindset that the country really wants or needs in a leader?

As much as Americans like to believe that they understand the practice of capitalism better than just about anyone in the world, the truth is that there really is no one, perfect definition of this economic system.

That said, I suspect most Americans would likely define the concept as one where private industry controls the means of production; provides for goods and services; creates the innovation that produces ever-improving methods of delivering these goods and services; and does all of this by assuming the financial risks destined to result in the profits or losses that will follow.

You know, the stuff that we love to say “made America great.”

But this is decidedly not the style of capitalism that made Mitt Romney a wealthy man.

Romney’s investment company practices a business model that does not, for the most part, take risks on the great new ideas that are going to propel society forward. Rather, its model has relied on bottom fishing for companies whose value would prove far greater when creatively destroyed than it would be through investment designed to turn a bad business around and make it into a valued and profitable contributor to society or through the placing of bets into enterprise that can truly make America exceptional in its contributions.

That is the problem with Mitt Romney —and even conservatives know it.

To be sure, there is nothing illegal at the heart of Romney’s business expertise. For that matter, there isn’t necessarily anything immoral about his practices—particularly given that there is an argument to be made that creative destruction of failing businesses can serve to strengthen the value of the jobs that survive and even create some new ones should the surviving business prosper.

But there is a decided negativity to the vulture capitalism practiced by Mitt Romney that leaves us wondering if he is truly the candidate who can propel the American experiment forward.

At the end of the day, it is really difficult to honestly make the pitch that you are the person who understands how to create jobs when your talent and experience has been all about seeing jobs as an impediment to a deal or a numerical factor to be contemplated in trying to make that deal work out profitably. Again, this doesn’t make Romney a villain. It simply raises the question of whether his particular business training —the element he most relies upon in putting himself forward as the best candidate for our times— is really the sort of experience that we want or need.

Personal stories matter when you run for president. And when one’s personal story is about creating money for the sole sake of creating money, this makes people nervous.

I think the many Americans who can’t get comfortable with Mitt Romney as our potential president sense this and would do well to pay attention to their instincts. We have never had a corporate raider, vulture capitalist, equity investor, etc. sitting in the Oval Office. These have always been the people who put up the money to get their favorite candidate elected.

Do we really want to go down this path at this time?

Do we really want to say that capitalism in America now favors those who create nothing beyond the profits that result through financial manipulation and exploitation rather than building great enterprises that can truly make American exceptional?

I don’t think so. And I very much suspect that, in their hearts, even conservative Americans anxious to beat President Obama don’t think so either.

This is very much a case of “be careful what you wish for.” The President of the United States is one of the true symbols of our Republic and I would hate for that symbol to position the United States as the Gordon Gekko on the world stage.

And so, to my conservative friends I would respectfully suggest that they search their soles before casting their primary votes for Mitt Romney.

Why?

Because in their hearts, they know I’m right.

Rick Ungar

Rick Ungar is an attorney in Southern California and a frequent writer, speaker and consultant on health care policy and politics. He is a contributing writer at Forbes. Readers can reach him at rickungar [at] gmail [dot] com.