Dissent Of The Day

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 14 2012 @ 3:32pm

A reader writes:

I am a wimp and Romney tries to have everything both ways, and he should have proudly owned the full spectrum of Bain's investments at any given time, including '99-02. But still, the Obama attack path makes me queasy, for two reasons 1) there's nothing really wrong with offshoring (though there is something wrong with loading companies with debt and driving them into the ground while you clean up), and 2) while I could be proved wrong sometime soon, I think the basic Romney/Bain narrative for '99-02 holds together.

I've been looking at old clips. At first they called it a leave of absence, sometimes a part-time leave, and kept Romney's place warm for him. Once he announced he was leaving in mid-2001, they retroactively made his resignation effective Feb '99. That's having it both ways, as Romney also did re Massachusetts residency. But he probably was not operationally involved with Bain from 2/99 on. He had responsibility, and probably a degree of oversight, and shouldn't try to weasel out of that, but he wasn't managing the funds. Keeping his board seat warm for a portfolio company or two is different.

Some weeks ago you worried that Obama could lose his rep for integrity, being above the fray, better than his opponents. I've flipped places with you a bit. I worry about blowback now, even as I deilght in hearing O cooly say that Romney has some 'splainin to do. I still don't like the ads, and I think the intimation that there was anything criminal in those SEC filings is way over the top.

I don't. For me the core point is that Romney's retaining the title of sole owner, chairman and CEO of Bain through 2002 means unequivocally that he is responsible for what happened in those years at his own company, whatever the level of his practical involvement. I don't think he was anything more than part time at most – but it's the responsibility that matters – and the accountability that goes with it. A man who refuses to take responsibility for his own company and says he is not accountable for anything that happened there even as he remained CEO is not someone who would be an accountable president.

More to the point, these attacks are not merely personal. When the Obama campaign says that Screen shot 2012-07-14 at 3.38.15 PMRomney is not the solution, but the problem, they are arguing that the extremes to which our economy and culture have gone in the last two decades – e.g. the money-grubbing, tax-evading and reckless financial sector – will not be tackled by a man who made a fortune by engaging in it. And this is not over the top. Bain is at the center of Romney's own argument for his candidacy. And the attacks on Romney's foreign bank accounts are much less incendiary than arguing that Obama does not understand his own country or apologized for it.

I expected and hoped for this. I wonder when the ad that shows Romney owned a company, Stericycle, that disposed of aborted babies, starts running in evangelical areas. Maybe mid-October. Rove would do it in a heart-beat. The point is not that Romney actively managed that acquisition; he almost certainly didn't. The point is simply that he was CEO of the company when it did this and was drawing a salary for it. That means he is formally responsible for it. Romney's response could still be that he disagrees with the transaction, didn't choose it, and wishes that Bain had never touched it. But that kind of parsing of responsibility and trashing of his own company comes off as both weasely and disloyal respectively.

We have a long way to go, but last week I think we saw the first real blood of this campaign. A hit, a palpable hit. And Romney's appearance on five major channels is the most significant confirmation. They're in trouble.