Should "Blackface Boy" have been sent home from school? Brad Hirschfield discussed

May 23, 2012

Is Mitt Romney's past work at Bain Capital really relevant? Is President Obama correct to suggest that such work is poor preparation for the presidency?

Brad Hirschfield discussed this and other ethical issues in the news.

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Is Bain bashing fair?  Is it wise?  Will it actually work to the President's advantage, or is it a desparate ploy which will do little more than stir up an already committed base while alienating those voters the President most needs to win re-election?


Is Mitt Romney's past work at bain capital really relevant?  Is president obama correct to suggest that such work is poor preparation for the presidency?  And if it's not, what is?


Let's get started!

Mitt Romney has raised the question by putting forth his experience as CEO of Bain Capital as his primary -- possibly the only -- experience that would justify his becoming president, even though the goals, strategy, and tactics of being CEO/Bain are totally unlike those of being POTUS. His immediately relevant experience is having been governor of Massachusetts, but except for his being addressed as "Governor Romney", he, his supporters, and campaign managers seem to have totally forgotten that aspect of his political life.

Romney has made much of his experience at Bain, and as such it IS fait game.  But the bashing of Bain, using using words such as "vampire" (ripping off Newt Gingrich, who accused him of being a vulture), and attacking the work of Bain as somehow "unfair", is NOT fair.


Also, you may want to consider than current polling suggests that more than twice as many people see Romney's Bain experience as a positive, as do those who see it as a negative.  Don't get me wrong, no profession is made up of saints, especially venture cap  folks, but most people are smart enough to know that they aren't all bad either, including the cities and states that rely on their investment dollars and the public employee unions that rely on their profits to make pension payments.


As to the notion that being a CEO and being POTUS are "totally unlike" each other, you may want to walk that back a bit, or even a lot.  Executive leadership, in any setting, is highly related,  It's one reason why governors running for the presidency typically fare better than former congressman.  The whole "buck stops here thing", you know?

Here's a logic string of why Romney's experience and personal wealth created by Bain Cap is relevant for review in the presidential campaign. Romney's main stated qualification for president is his experience and reputation as a strong businessman. That business reputation is based on his experience and huge personal wealth. It is, therefore, relevant to review both his experience as the founder and CEO of Bain Cap (and Bain Cap deals during that time) and also his personal wealth gained from individual Bain Cap deals while he was actively working for Bain Cap and also afterwards while he was still receiving "carried interest" in Bain Cap funds. His business reputation is bolstered by his huge personal wealth so it's appropriate to see how that wealth was created by looking at all individual Bain deals (the 350 deals Bain Cap referenced themselves).

Before we get to assuming you are correct about what constitutes Romney's "main stated qualification" for becomming the next President, it's worth noting that you  are largely incorrect.  It is among the accomplishments he mentions, but so is his ability to govern MA, his strong sense of family, and a set of values which actually resonate with the American public.  And to be fait regarding the family and values stuff, the same can be said of the President.  In other words, all that is a wash, leaving the Bain stuff available for the Dem.s to assail.


But let's assume your claim is correct, and let's agree that the deals are worth examining, even though that involves a level of detail to which most voters pay little attention.  What we will find is a track record that created a great deal of value for a great many people, both investors and employees.  The rate of job loss in those companies Bain controlled were w/in 1% of the average durring those years.  In other words, attacking Bain turns out to be little more than an attempt to sell class warfare to a public that continually resists such efforts.  So even if the attack is fair, it it probably unwise, assuming that you support the President. 


Think I am wrong?  Ask Corey Booker, Ed Rendell and a great many other proud Democrats who know this is not a winning strategy.

How is it not on topic? It seems Romney touts his business background as one of his strengths, though investment bankers are just as happy to get rid of jobs if it makes them more money (apparently at Bain they touted "rationalizing the workforce", i.e. downsizing) as they are inclined to create them.

You have hit on a key issue i.e. what is a rational approach to growing an economy, be it a business or a nation?  About THAT, reasoable people can disagree, and I would venture to say that neither side has the complete answer.  In fact, until we reject any politician who actually acts otherwise (claiming it is easy), we will have either governmental gridlock or extremism from one side or the other, but that is for another time.


What is a rational way to proceed that creates the greates value for the greatest number of people in a sustainable way?  That, more than casting asperision about who is a vampire or who is a socialist, is the way to go.  Of course, when politicians from either side stand up and say that to members of their own party, they get hammered as disloyal.  THAT's the real tragedy here.

Every person has one or two major fields, Romney's main one is in finance. I would want to know details of what he did. I would also want to know how much influence his faith will enter in. I read an article that when Mitt was a boy the elders of the church more or less ordained him for president to get revenge for what the gentiles (us) did to them. It looks to me like he maybe a professional (legal) thief.

So you hate Mormons and believe that capitalism is theft, I get it, as does any intelligent reader who reads your comment.  And that is exactly why the President's advisors are wrong to stir this pot -- look what it brings up!


Should we know question the President's faith, dredge up old sermon's by Jeremish Wright, and equate Mr. Obama's committment to a particular definiton of fairness with socialism?  Because that is the road you are leading us down.


You want to talk Bain, talk about the role of capital investment in making the country possible.  Is it perfect?  By no means.  Is it necessary?  You bet!  Should profit and sustainability be the only benchmarks?  No. Are they necessary benchmarks, even in public institutions?  Absolutely!

Dear Mr. Hirschfield, You write that, "current polling suggests that more than twice as many people see Romney's Bain experience as a positive, as do those who see it as a negative." I have not seen the data, so I will accept that as a true characterization of polling. However, I do not accept that those who see it as problematic should therefore be discounted. It is not ONLY press and image that matter. It also matters what experience candidates bring and what they have learned from that experience. I, and many others, are concerned that the Bain experience is a poor proving ground for job creation because where jobs were created, it was incidental to the larger goal of creating profits for investors. We know that because jobs were also destroyed for the same goal. Politics and image matter, but they are not all that matters. Those who are concerned about Mr. Romney's being beholden to big-money interests and relating only to them are not to be discounted because they don't poll well.

Reasonable and wise on all counts, so let's take it step by step, from the bottom up.


"Big money" fuels both campaigns, including some 100 million wall street dollars in the Obama campaign, and more hoped for. So assuming your concern is as stated, there is reason to be concerned no matter who you support.  My guess is that you don't have that fear re Obama because you trust him more, regardless of who funds him, and you trust him more because his views are closer to your own.  That's all well and good, but it renders the issue of who is in whose pocket, irelevant.


As to job creation, an issue on pretty much everybody's mind, the issue isn't Bain, but which econmic approach do you beieve whill deliver -- Romney's or Obama's.  The only alternative to that is a disturbing notion which the President raised yesterday i.e. that "fairness" (or his understanding of it) trumps economic viability. 


And no, polling is not everything, at least not for candidates with integrity, as both these men genuinely seem to possess, but it does tell us where Americans are, and that is important not simply because of needing their votes but because, one hopes, our opnions actually matter to those who govern this democracy.

Mitt Romney has put forth that he's qualified to be president because he ran Bain Capital and created 100,000 jobs there (well not really). He's putting it out as his main qualifaction, more than his govenorship and his heading of the SLC olympics. He's made it relevant and his record there should be examined accordingly. As for if it's good preparation, I'd say his governship is far better qualification. Public Policy and running a country isn't about making a profit, it's about getting everyone ahead. Running Bain Capital was about making a profit and getting the investors ahead. Not even close to the same thing. Of course, the fact that his current political views are 180 from his views as governor and his record as governor was pretty abysmal, so maybe running on Bain is necessary

You are correct about Romney having the challenge of having governed from the center and now needing to run from the right.  It parallels Obama's having needed to run from the center and subsequently governing from the left.  Each candidate has teh challenge of needing to corrrect for what is seen by needed constituents, as a weakness.


Interestingly, his time and the pragmatism of doing deals and running businesses is what promises that Romney, if elected, will return to a more pragmatic center -- a place from which no idealogue, either of the left or of the right, can get much accomplished.

Is it fair that John Kerry was bashed for his military service in Viet-nam?

Of course not.  But as most of us were taught as children, two wrongs do not make a right.  In fact, when done in politcs, all it does is breed angry elections which reward polarizing politicians who rarely serve the nation well.

how much money did bain leave for taxpayers to pickup after they removed pension funds from companies they bankrupted?

Quite a bit actually, because the profits get taxed, but that is not what you are asking.  I think that you are asking about the lives of those workers who lost out when a business was closed by Bain.  And there is no doubt that that did occur.  Of course the profits from those closures went to other pension funds, including billions to public employee funds, that sustained other workers.


Here is where the charge of socialism gets trotted out, and in this case it's fair -- just not accurate when directed at President Obama.  Markets entail risk, and when they are free, they entail greater risk.  The only way to rid the markets of all risk (and even then it doesn't, people jsut get to pretend that it does), is to control them from one central authority -- the definition of the socialist/communist state.  As it is completely nuts to think that that is the President's wish, the current approach to bashing Bain does a disservice to those doing it.

The question should be, why would pointing out Romney's time with Bain be unfair. It's part of Romney's resume and Romney has been hyping his business experience as giving him unique qualifications for the job. If so, then examining what he did at Bain is fair game.

To be clear, I asked the question.  I never said it was unfair.  I do think its not terribly wise, and I really think that reducing it to Romney is all about profits and teh President is all about fairness, is not only unfair, but foolish.


Examining what happened at Bain, to the extent that is is relevant, IS fair.  But the relevant issues are not whether or not venture capital is good.  Any sophisitcated understanding of our economy appreciates that it is necessary.


The levels of honesty, integrity, transparency etc. with which Bain was run.  How intelligently it made descions and the sharpness of it's strategic thinking.  Those are relevant issues and should be explored.  The problem for the Obama team, is that the answers to those questions help Romney, not the President.

You said earlier: "The rate of job loss in those companies Bain controlled were w/in 1% of the average durring those years.". Do you have any sources for that? I'll wait.

Ah an easy one.  Just a simpl request for more information.  I love it.  Check out today's Washington Post, especially the Editorial page.  As I am on line writing you, i can not get you the link.  Thanks for understanding!

So Mitt Romney will become a centrist? And President Obama is a left-wing ideologue? To become a centrist, even from an economic standpoint, Romney will have to give up some cherished positions: no bailout of Detroit as well as Wall Street, no more favoring short-term profit over long-term investment. President Obama will also have to change course - push through a single-payer health care system, nationalize banks, and so on. Aren't you falling into the American Elect fallacy that the extremes are easy to define?

I have hope that Romney, if elected will move toward the center, and we certainly have evidence from histroy that such is the case.  Of course, in the famous words of all investment prospectuses, past perfomance is no guarantee of future results!


As to the President, the evidence is that he is more centrist when it comes to ideology, but has moved, and continues to move, to the left whenit comes to governing.  And to answer your specific measures on that score, his preferance to address healthcare before jobs was a powerful signal, and nationalizing the banks would make him a socialist, which no matter how much those on the far-right say it (and those on the far-left wish it), is simply not the case.


No, I am not falling into anything -- just calling it the way I see it based on the evidence from two men's carreers.

Many venture capital firms fund startups and growing companies, helping them to bring innovation to the American economy through new products, ways of doing business and even entire industries. On the other hand, some investment firms take weak companies and "turn them around," improving their financial condition but also, often, taking a large part of their assets for the enrichment of the investors. There is a significant difference between the two and it seems to me it is fair to discuss which model Bain Capital followed, and whether this model is good for the economy and the country. While mindless bashing of Romney's past activities is bad, the Bain story is hardly painted in shades of black and white, and informed criticism is appropriate.

Forgive me (or don't), but now who is being naive?  What about the job-killing impact of many of those new technologies?  What about the shifts in the kind of workers needed and the locations where the jobs move, all of which create massive upheaval in some workers' lives?


Sorry, the idea that innovation is inherently good and restructuring is inherently bad is itself a short-term and unsophiticated view.  Now, if you wanted to ask how the really long-term questions of worker security, the overll economy. etc figure into an investment firm's thinking, I am with you.  Of course, only to the extent that short term accountablility and fiscal responsibility figure into the thinking of those spending government dollars.


As always, each side masters half of the equation and runs from teh wisdom found on the other side.

Well, that's it for this week.  As always, thanks for great comments and questions.


Don't forget to find me on facebook (no matter it's current stock price) and follow me on twitter @bradhirschfield.


'Til next week,


I love your writing because you're one of the few bipartisan centrists who realize that both sides do it, where "it" is pretty much any bad thing. You're like the rabbinical David Broder. Have you always been so fair and balanced or is it something you learn over time as a rabbi?

Just had to say thank you!  Comparing me to David Broder is an honor I don't deserve, but will continue to try to live up to.


Like most wisdom/spiritual tradtions, mine can make people think big or think small.  I work hard to make it the former.


Thanks again.

In This Chat
Brad Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see
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