Mitt Romney as Gordon Gekko. The GOP’s “free market” meltdown?

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    by Paul Goldman

    Gingrich and his fellow anti-Romney, anti-Obama presidential contenders have suddenly decided they aren’t such believers in free enterprise after all. “Profit” is now a dirty word among those running behind the former head of Bain Capital. After three years of calling the President a “socialist,” suddenly Obama’s policies are now closer to their view of a true American capitalist. A soon-to-be-released documentary of Mr. Romney’s role as a private capitalist has me and other commentators wondering: are we seeing the crackup of Republican conservatism?

    Michael Douglas’ portrayal of corporate raider Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” won the Oscar for best actor in 1987. Now it appears Mitt Romney will be starring in a new version, although this one wasn’t produced by Oliver Stone. Called “When Mitt Romney came to town”, the GOP presidential hopeful doesn’t have a speaking role. Rather, it is a tale of four companies, all having the good or bad fortune, depending on your point of view, to have been taken over by Bain Capital, the name of Mr. Romney’s investment firm.

    As I understand the history of “When Mitt Romney came to town”, it was produced and written by someone who held Mr. Romney, and Bain Capital’s business practices, in “maximum low regard” as they say in the politics. First shopped to a Super PAC backing Jon Huntsman, a second bidder emerged right at the end of the process, stealing ownership at the final moment away from the angry backers of the former Utah Governor.

    As is now clear from the giddy Newt Gingrich, he is beyond happy that a PAC dedicated to his winning the White House won the auction, thus allowing them to spend millions calling Mr. Romney a predator capitalist.

     

    To be honest, one suspects you don’t need to watch even a second of it to know the story line: as they might say in the Twilight Trilogy: “Romney sucks.” As in sucking the lifeblood out of various businesses around the America, putting money in Bain’s pocket while leaving workers on the unemployment line. In 1994, the late Senator Ted Kennedy used a similar attack strategy to defeat Romney. But he focused on only one local company. Now the attack is going nationwide.

    This storyline was also part of the movie “Wall Street.” When asked why he wanted to wreck Blue Star Airlines after buying it, Gordon Gekko said simply: “Because it was wreckable.”

    In the Hollywood movie, Gordon Gekko could make a lot of money by raiding the pension fund, selling off the airplanes, landing rights, routes and everything that could bring a buck in the open market. In “When Mitt Romney came to town,” there are ordinary Joes and Janes – not Hollywood actors and actresses – making the same point; one suspects far more powerfully than Mr. Stone did.

    However, it needs to be remembered that Gekko’s crime in the film was stock fraud, not wrecking companies. Thus I suppose Mitt Romney is not technically Gordon Gekko.  But “greed is good”, the shorthand slogan for Gekko’s most remembered lines in the movie, seems destined for a comeback now. What’s fascinating is that alleged free-market Republicans, led by self-styled “bold Reagan conservative” Mr. Gingrich, are now throwing this Newtron bomb at the capitalist system.

    Let me see if I get their drift: they are against any further government regulation of economic activity or stronger enforcement laws – indeed they want to shrink the role of Washington – yet at the same time they want to prevent what they are charging Bain Capital with doing? Okay.

    Technically the SuperPAC is paying for the ads, all the anti-Romney candidate are doing is suggesting that voters need to know the truth. Who do they think they are kidding?  But if what Mr. Romney allegedly did is legal, then what’s the beef of Republican free-enterprisers? If it wasn’t legal, then how can they be against further government regulations in this area since clearly nothing stopped Bain for all these years?

    Republicans can’t have it both ways. They can’t call the President a socialist for wanting to intervene to protect Americans, yet then complain about the outcome dictated by the free market.

    But you say: “Gingrich, et. al’s beef is that Romney practiced predator capitalism, he was a Robber Baron-lite.”  

    My comeback: Whatever Romney did, as long as it was legal, means it is permitted by the American version of capitalism. I am not defending it, indeed I would, and have, proposed laws over the years to address these issues believing we need to upgrade capitalism as Republican President Teddy Roosevelt did a century ago with the first Anti-Trust Acts and other early attempts to adjust to the new Industrial Age.

    But Gingrich, etc. have opposed such reforms as anti-capitalist. How can they now complain about what their view of capitalism has produced?

    If you believe what Bain Capital did is wrong, there are two basic choices: rely on more “moral suasion” to stop it, or reform the system so those results are either no longer possible or provide such disincentives as needed to deter the conduct.

    Apparently, Mr. Romney’s rivals finally agree with Democrats that “moral suasion” alone isn’t enough, and that “greed is good” in terms corporate raiding may not be the best policy for America.

    So the GOP debate may have finally reached a useful fork in the road. Democrats believe in free enterprise, but not the mythical “invisible hand” of market forces as the only referee of right or wrong. The President will present our case to the American people. Republicans have run for 3 years on anti-Obama. That’s fine, we did it on anti-Bush. But now comes the championship round.

    If Obama has it wrong, and Romney too, then what precisely are the GOP’s principles here? Mr. Romney says his rivals don’t understand how the free market works. They disagree.

    So I ask: How exactly do the anti-Romney, anti-Obama candidates for President think our system should work in the areas discussed by the new anti-Bain Capital documentary?

    They attack the President for claiming he wants government to pick winners and lowers. They are now attacking Mr. Romney for wanting free enterprise to pick winners and losers. So what is their third way? It has to be more, not less, government involvement on the basis of their own criticism.

    The problem is, the Republican presidential candidates have spent the last year barnstorming the country decrying government as the problem, and not part of the solution.

    Democrats wanted to stop predatory capitalists years ago. But it was Gingrich, et. al who claimed that was being a socialist. Suddenly it is now the definition of an American capitalist.

    Who would ever believe that “profit” would become a dirty word in the Republican Party?

    It is going to be fascinating to watch where Republicans draw the line between “good” free enterprise and “bad” free enterprise: and how they propose to make sure the public gets the benefits of the former while not suffering from the latter.

    If the economy keeps improving, the President is going to win in a landslide.

    • Rachel

      What’s more fun? Calling Romney “Mittens” or “Willy”?