by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
January 20, 2012
MITT ROMNEY: AN UNAPOLOGETIC VULTURE CAPITALIST
DUMMERSTON, Vt., Jan. 20, 2012 -- In the craziness of the campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, we've seen and heard a lot of crazy things.
But did you ever think that you would hear Republican candidates attacking former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for being a "vulture capitalist?"
Granted, the recent attacks by Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich against Romney and his past dealings with the private equity firm that he co-founded, Bain Capital, have more to do with finding a way to attack the frontrunner than with any serious critiques of predatory capitalism.
But even if it is phony posturing, it is encouraging to see Republicans articulate arguments that the Democrats have been too afraid to talk about.
As we enter the fifth year of the current economic downturn, many Americans are outraged that the people who engineered and profited from the collapse of the housing market have yet to be punished.
Rapacious capitalism is nothing new. It certainly wasn't new during the Reagan years, or during either of the Bush presidencies, or even during the Clinton years. Since the crack-up of the Democratic Party in 1968, the plutocrats have had a green light to grab all they can.
And the American people are finally beginning to notice. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 66 percent of Americans surveyed now say there is a strong conflict between the rich and the poor. By comparison, in 2009, only 47 percent said that.
But Romney will have none of that kind of talk.
Last week, Romney was asked this question by Matt Lauer on the Today show: "Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?"
Romney's response? "You know I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms.... But the President has made this part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It's a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach."
He not only believes that issues of economic inequality should be discussed only "in quiet rooms," he believes that any discussion of the yawning gap between rich and poor amounts to "putting free markets on trial."
With 46 million Americans now living in poverty and unemployment still stubbornly high, Romney's sanctimonious defense of greed is sickening.
The record shows that Romney got very rich at Bain as its chief executive officer between 1984 and 1999, a period when the firm acquired and sold about 150 companies. But what Bain did was no different that what other private equity companies do -- perform leveraged/hostile takeovers of other businesses, restructure them through layoffs and other cost-saving moves, strip them of all their assets and value, and then sell them and pocket the profits while the workers lose their jobs.
That record is well documented and is more than fair game in a political campaign.
Romney accuses his conservative opponents of putting "free enterprise on trial." I say that he is afraid of the truth -- that he and other vulture capitalists like him pillaged the American economy and contributed nothing of value for the greater good of society.
Gingrich may be a liar and a charlatan, but even a blind pig occasionally finds an acorn. He stumbled upon one when he said that "I think there's a real difference between people who believed in the free market and people who go around, take financial advantage, loot companies, and leave behind broken families, broken towns, people on unemployment."
There is indeed. But the people who loot companies and leave the wreckage behind are the people who fund our elections. The Wall Streeters who created the mess that led to the current recession are the ones who gave the most money to Barrack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. In return, President Obama assembled an economic brain trust that reflected the desires of Wall Street.
In Romney, the Wall Streeters have a candidate that reflects their values - extracting short-term profit at the expense of long-term business health, and then seeking bailouts from taxpayers for their bad business decisions.
They have a candidate who is proud of his record of being a corporate raider, the living embodiment of Gordon Gekko, the villain in Oliver Stone's "Wall Street."
They have a candidate with a long record of looting and pillaging companies and driving them into bankruptcy.
They have a candidate who cut employee wages, benefits and pensions, and laid off American workers and outsourced their jobs to other countries in the name of ever higher profits.
Pointing all this out isn't an attack on free enterprise. It is an attack on business practices and values that have driven this country to the brink of economic and social disaster. It is an attack on an economic system rigged in favor of the 1 percent at the top of the income ladder, a system where their profit comes at the expense of everyone else.
While President Obama has not been able to totally turn the economy around as quickly as everyone has hoped, he has at least kept things from getting worse. Despite the harping of his critics, more new jobs have been created in three years of the Obama Administration than in the entire eight years of George W. Bush.
The last thing this nation needs is a president like Mitt Romney, an unapologetic vulture capitalist who profited from the practices that drove the nation to disaster.
Fortunately, the chances of Romney becoming president are more remote by the day. Romney is the perfect poster child for the 1 percent, and if the focus of the national dialogue remains on economic equality, he is toast.
AR Chief of Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.