This weekend, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a surrogate for Team Obama, said it was "nauseating" that the president's campaign was releasing ads attacking Bain Capital, the private equity titan formerly headed by Mitt Romney. Booker eventually walked back his remarks, but his comments sparked a controversy over whether Bain is a legitimate target. The firm specializes in buying out struggling companies and turning them around, and Romney has touted his experience there as evidence that he can right the U.S. economy. But critics say Bain and other private equity firms often load those companies with debt, lay off workers, strip their pensions, and profit even when when the businesses go bankrupt. The Obama campaign last week highlighted a steel factory that had failed under Bain's watch, and this week it released an ad about SCM Office Supplies, which went under while Bain walked away with $100 million in profits. Is Bain fair game for attacks?
Yes. Bain is unbridled capitalism at its worst: Obama's focus on Bain is part of a larger debate about "what kind of capitalism we want," says E.J. Dionne at The Washington Post. Sure, Bain helped companies thrive, but it "also has to answer for the pain and suffering — or, as defenders of capitalism like to call it, the 'creative destruction' — that some of Bain's deals left in their wake." This is the type of unregulated capitalism that has exacerbated income inequality, led to reckless gambling on Wall Street, and betrayed "workers who made bargains with their employers in good faith." Of course it's fair game.
"A choice of capitalisms"
No. Obama is distorting what Bain does: Bain's long track record of success in supporting companies like Staples "confirms the logical conclusion" that the firm has been creating value for both its investors and American workers, says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. In "the risk-taking world of private equity," it's inevitable that some companies will go bankrupt. But if Bain resembled the caricature drawn by Team Obama, it would not still be in business. Over nearly three decades, Bain has "bought and sold many businesses and executed thousands of financing transactions" — it must be doing something right.
"Bain capitalism 101"
Either way, the Bain attacks are effective: Every time the national discussion turns to Bain, it's a loss for Romney, says Glenn Thrush at Politico. The Obama campaign's "goal is to make Bain a household word — and that is best accomplished through repetition to form a groove in the collective consciousness of American voters." While the attacks on Bain might make Obama seem like a "nasty negative campaigner," they also force Romney to be "defensive" and "muddled."
"To Bain, or not to Bain?"