King of Bain Lite

When Winning Our Future, Newt Gingrich’s Super-PAC, ran a savage video series (a 30-minute film called “When Mitt Romney Came To Town,” and better-known short excerpts run as TV ads) under the rubric “King of Bain,” just prior to the South Carolina presidential primary (which he subsequently won), it was often said that we’d be seeing and hearing similar themes during the general election.

Well, now we are:

The ad begins running today in Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia today. As Jonathan Chait notes, it will be denounced as “demagogic” by conservatives, but it actually hits Romney squarely for the very experience he claims as his credential to become a Mr. Fix-it for the U.S. economy. At Bain Romney actually was a cutting-edge capitalist who found ways to maximize profits by eroding if not demolishing the old social contract between corporations and workers–and more implicitly, with the communities in which they were located–in the name of superior efficiency. And it’s superior efficiency that, when you boil it all down, Romney and the GOP are touting as the object of all its plans to cut taxes and eliminate regulations as an unnecessary burden on “job-creators.”

The Obama ad, says Chait accurately, is pretty even-natured compared to the WOF video:

[I]t’s interesting to contrast the measured tone of Obama’s ads against the over-the-top style of the same material in the hands of Romney’s GOP rivals. Obama’s ad merely presents interviews and clippings from news articles. “King of Bain,” an anti-Romney documentary disseminated by supporters of Newt Gingrich earlier this year, is hilariously propagandistic, with grainy images of cigar-smoking men and fulminations against greed.

The panic Gingrich’s campaign inspired among Republican officials, not just those working for Romney, gives away the fact that this is a true political vulnerability for the Republican nominee. The transformation of American business is deeply unpopular. It has made working life less secure and has failed to deliver broad-based prosperity even while it has bestowed enormous riches on the most fortunate. The locus of public opinion on it in many crucial ways sits well to the left of what either party proposes. Many Americans want to go back to the days when corporations offered secure employment and generous benefits.

So the Obama campaign doesn’t really need to exaggerate Romney’s record at Bain to get persuadable voters thinking not only about Mitt’s experience, but about a more fundamental view of how the economy should function at both the micro and macro levels that is almost impossible for the GOP candidate to deny. You don’t have to believe Romney collects the tears of the children of laid-off workers to fill his swimming pool to understand he considers most people in this country as dispensable and interchangable units of production whose immediate interests must be subordinated to the great Golden Calf of efficiency. So a King of Bain-style attack that’s light on the Daddy Warbucks trappings and heavier on the central message makes sense.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.