Mitt Romney keeps talking about how, as governor of Massachusetts, he was able to work with the Democrats who comprised 87% of that state’s legislature to get new policies passed. He implies that he’ll be able to do the same with Democrats in Congress if he becomes president. The problem is that the Romney who served in Massachusetts is not the same Romney who’s running for the White House. In the decade since, he has adopted much more right-wing ideologies and would be much less likely to reach consensus with even moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Romney also keeps touting his record as a jobs creator (a claim effectively dismantled by David Stockman in Newsweek), but I don’t hear anyone pointing out why that doesn’t qualify him to become our nation’s chief executive — because the responsibilities of a CEO are different from those of a president. As a businessman, your job is to make money from whatever product or service you’re selling, and you hire more people to help you achieve that goal when business demands it. No businessman ever hired a bunch of people solely because he wanted to help them — he increased his staff because he wanted to help his own bank account (and those of his investors or shareholders). A president, however, is tasked not with making money and protecting the bottom line, but with helping people and protecting the country.
Romney’s dubious record as a job creator is moot, but his record as a big money borrower is very relevant. Romney keeps railing about the deficit, arguing that we have to stop borrowing so much money and driving up our debt (without offering specifics on what should be cut, other than taxes). But that’s exactly what he did as head of Bain Capital — borrowing huge amounts of cash in leveraged buyouts, then often leaving those companies burdened with huge debts while he and his partners escaped with tremendous profits and management fees.
As Stockman, the one-time budget director for Ronald Reagan, explains:
Mitt Romney was not a businessman; he was a master financial speculator who bought, sold, flipped, and stripped businesses. He did not build enterprises the old-fashioned way—out of inspiration, perspiration, and a long slog in the free market fostering a new product, service, or process of production. Instead, he spent his 15 years raising debt in prodigious amounts on Wall Street so that Bain could purchase the pots and pans and castoffs of corporate America, leverage them to the hilt, gussy them up as reborn “roll-ups,” and then deliver them back to Wall Street for resale—the faster the better.
That is the modus operandi of the leveraged-buyout business, and in an honest free-market economy, there wouldn’t be much scope for it because it creates little of economic value. But we have a rigged system—a regime of crony capitalism—where the tax code heavily favors debt and capital gains, and the central bank purposefully enables rampant speculation by propping up the price of financial assets and battering down the cost of leveraged finance.
Perhaps Romney’s plan as president is to do the same thing, but on a much larger scale, leveraging the entire US to the hilt, then getting out with a big payday, leaving nothing but devastation in his path, as he’s done so many times before.
The last time we had a businessman in the White House, under Bush 43, we went from a budget surplus to a giant fiscal hole. The last time we had a president who put people first, under Clinton, we did exactly the opposite. In fact, in the last 30 years, it has been GOP presidencies that have driven the budget deficit upward, only to be reeled in and reversed by their Democrat successors.
Government is not a for-profit enterprise. When a nation invests in infrastructure, schools, parks, libraries, police departments, fire departments, a military, and its own people, the goal is not to make money, but to build a better nation for all. That investment pays off not in dividends on paper but in a better place to live, play, work, and — yes — start a business.
That’s why we don’t need business expertise in the White House, we need leadership.