I’ve been watching the Romney/Bain Capital situation for a long while, wondering how it will play out. I’ve been convinced, since day one, that the story is not about Mitt Romney’s wealth or envy or anything like that, but let me share a few words about that matter before I address what really matters.
Governor Romney was enormously successful as a financier. Good on him! I don’t envy him and, frankly, am quite happy that my life does not involves the burdens attendant to making and having a financial fortune. My only quarrel about all that money relates to the several comments Governor Romney and his wife have shared about starting out with nothing, struggling, etc. For example, there’s Ann Romney’s comment that when she and her husband were in school those were not easy years, despite the fact that they lived on money invested by George Romney in his company, American Motors. Then there’s Governor Romney’s comment about being unemployed now, a statement that sits very poorly with people who don’t work because there are no available jobs.
Governor Romney started out with a huge leg up in life. His affluent family exposed him to a lifestyle that prepared him for becoming successful. He got the best education money can buy, and the opportunity to develop networks that are only available to the chosen few who attend the most elite educational institutions in the world. Good for him that he used these opportunities to the max, but could there be in all of this just a touch of humility? Maybe a nod to the fact that being born in America, in these times, might have played some role in his success? Yes, he’s a big success, but how would he have done if he was born African-American and poor, or if he was trying to get going in Peru or Niger. (Please forgive me if Governor Romney has been humble in public. If he has, his comments are surely not easy to fine!) As an aside on this issue, here are links–text and video–to Michael Lewis’ Baccalaureate remarks at the 2012 Princeton University graduation. They’re relevant: http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S33/87/54K53/ and
Now, about the whole Bain thing. Governor Romney chose his message for the campaign. He could be telling voters he was a successful governor in Massachusetts, but he rarely mentions that part of his life. He could be focusing on his education, but he likes to slam Harvard. No, he asks us to pick him because he was a successful businessman. Well, fine! He invited inquiries into his career–maybe he thought he’d be able to just tell people he’s a rich, successful businessman and leave it at that–and people have taken a peek.
When people found stuff about the business career that was not so popular, like outsourcing (or offshoring, which is what Governor Romney calls it), Governor Romney denied any involvement with the activities, claiming he was gone by then. Easily, Governor Romney could have defended his actions by reminding people that he answered to investors then, and that his actions were lawful, blah, blah, blah. Instead, however, he chose the “wasn’t me” defense.
So why does this all matter. Well, I think we’re in “it’s not the act, it’s the coverup” territory. Governor Romney dealt with residency issues in 2002, when he decided he wanted to become the Governor of Massachusetts and faced a residency challenge. His testimony suggested involvement with Bain between 1999 and 2002, and his words were offered to support his ties with Massachusetts.
Then there’s the matter of the Securities and Exchange Commission filings, which identify Governor Romney, between 1999 and 2002, as the Chief Executive Officer, Chairman of the Board and sole shareholder of Bain. Documents that are filed with the SEC matter, a fact that should not be lost on a man who graduated from the Harvard Law School and the Harvard Business School, and who wants to be the boss of our country.
Finally, the reports I hear indicate that Governor Romney received wages between 1999 and 2002. If he did, did Bain deduct those payments as ordinary and reasonable business expenses? If so, and if no services were provided–the story we get today–that’s an issue. (I know nothing about Bain’s corporate structure, but if Bain was a corporation it could not lawfully pay an employee for services if no services were rendered.)
Romney supporters may find my nits unimportant. And in the grand scheme, they may not matter. Certainly false documents get filed all the time, and it looks like whatever may have been false was inaccurate and not false for some illegal purpose. For me, though, the nits say plenty about character. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) may have summed things up best the other day when he observed that “it’s really American to avoid paying taxes, legally.” Admittedly, Senator Graham was making a point, to wit: the tax code is really complicated, and it should be made simpler. Fine, but do we really want our President to be just like us? Not me, thank you very much. I want him or her to be a leader in all ways. Can’t we ask for conduct that rises above the minimum threshold set forth in the tax code? Can’t we expect a really wealthy man who’s been running for President for six years to give up some of the sketchy deductions? Is there anyone who would fault the man if he told the trustee of his blind trust–a man who is, by the way, one of his closest friends, and a man who, for reasons unknown, managed to invest in a fund run by one of the Romneys’ sons–to get every fricking dollar invested onshore, right here in America? And can’t we, finally, ask the man who wants to lead us to take responsibility for a company he clearly owned, whether or not he was there on a daily basis?
In conclusion, I am well aware of the fact that Governor Romney is the not the first guy whose investments have presented issues. (I’m buried in the four-volume Lyndon Johnson series by Robert Caro–second time around, and a fabulous bio–and Governor Romney looks like a saint compared to LBJ.) These are difficult times, however, and we have every right to expect the most from our leaders. As bad as the last five years have been, when we’ve been under the sway of Wall Streeters with their “anything goes” mentality, I fear it’ll be much worse if we hand the keys to the country over to a man like Mitt Romney.