The Freudian Slip Heard Around the World: Mitt Romney Puts Free Enterprise on Trial

[Mitt Romney] and his friends at Bain were bad guys. Any real capitalists should disavow Romney’s ‘creative destruction’ model that made him wealthy at the expense of thousands of American jobs.

Independent political attack ad supporting Newt Gingrich’s campaign

“I will suggest [private equity firms are] just vultures[.] They’re vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb, waiting for a company to get sick. And then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that and they leave the skeleton.”

Rick Perry, January 9, 2012

Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores

Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more

They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks

Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back

Bruce Springsteen, 1984

Those who continue to remind us that Mitt Romney’s professed penchant for being able to fire people was taken out of context, that the GOP frontrunner was making a comment about consumer choice in health insurance (which, by the way, has about as much to do with reality as unicorns) that we have no right to read further into, are insulting our intelligence. The Obama camp’s intention of framing a general election campaign against Romney as a Main Street vs. Wall Street thing–a kind of Bowdlerized answer to Occupy–is not exactly classified information.

The Democrat establishment believes that the 99 percent (the Great Unwashed to whom they must pander every four years) does not currently grasp intellectually such concepts as “private equity,” “leveraged buyout,” and “hostile takeover.” It all must seem to simple folks in the heartland like some mysterious shit guys in suits do with their cellphones somewhere in Manhattan. After all, if American voters did by and large understand that stuff, there never would have been Reagan Democrats and NASCAR dads, right?

Running against Romney is supposedly going to shine the light, at long last, on the connection between those sorry yokels hoarding a lifetime’s worth of cheap merchandise on reality TV and the guys in suits hoarding the cash that said yokels exchanged for said merchandise. Romney could have used any number of metaphors to make his point; his instinct was to go with what is most familiar to him: firing people.

Romney has thereby hastened an event that was inevitably destined to happen at some point this election year. That event is the sudden and violent decoupling of “job creator” and “capitalist” in the mind of the American electorate. By instantly jumping on the statement as a political admission against interest, conflating in the process his record as a private businessman with his record as an elected official, Romney’s more-conservative-than-thou rivals have put themselves in the embarrassing position of sounding a lot like Michael Moore.

But what’s a right-winger to do when adherence to free market principles interferes with the competitive instinct of the individual to exploit every opportunity that presents itself for short-term gain? Fomenting a little old-fashioned proletarian class warfare in the service of a regressive and reactionary agenda is a time-honored tradition that dates back to Europe during the Depression. Hitler, after all, didn’t call his party the National Libertarians.

Time will only tell whether Gingrich et al. continue to run against Romney’s success as a corporate raider as opposed to his failure as a politician. What is certain, however, is that what is now called the “dark side of private equity” is on the table for political debate in households all over the country, and voters don’t like what they’re learning about what the guys in suits talking on cellphones have been doing to their future for the past thirty years.

But can either Obama or Romney’s GOP rivals really run against the King of Bain in this way without running against private equity itself? And can they really run against private equity without running against capitalism? It’s not as though what Romney did at Bain was public policy. He saw an opportunity to get rich and he took it. Ain’t that the American way?

It would be one thing if this was simply a moral question about the past–something akin to Trent Lott’s sympathizing with Strom Thurmond’s defense of segregation–that is a teachable moment but has no contemporary political or social relevance. Private equity, corporate predation, and mass layoffs however, still happen. All of the giant firms that survived the crash of got bailed out after 2008 are gobbling up the carnage as we speak. And if you look at the people Obama actually surrounds himself with, they are nothing other than the new Mitt Romneys, Wall Street scumbags gorging themselves without any restraint.

Now that the 99 percent are on the move, the traditional pandering tactics that we have grown accustomed to all our lives are suddenly fraught with peril for those who would govern. You’re not hallucinating; that flag you saw the guy waving at the NASCAR race was red and it had a hammer and sickle on it.