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As Ben Domenech noted this morning, the rhetoric being aimed at Mitt Romney on the campaign trail over the past few days has been an embarrassment to the Republican candidates who are peddling it. Rick Perry has called Romney and his ilk at Bain Capital “vultures”; Newt Gingrich has essentially accused of him of pillaging the companies that Bain took over; and Jon Huntsman has said that Romney “enjoys firing people.”
None of these men are economically illiterate enough to believe the full force of these charges, which means we’re at a high tide for election season opportunism. As Romney said in tonight’s New Hampshire victory speech, “President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial. In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him. This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation.”
What’s most frustrating from this former speechwriter’s perspective is that (A) Romney is doing a miserable job of explaining and defending his record and (B) his opponents are missing an opportunity to hit Romney on his Bain background in a way that is both consistent with conservative economic principles and likely to give primary voters second thoughts.
I’ll post tomorrow on what Romney’s rivals can do. For now, here’s the message I’d like to see coming from Romney himself:
Over the past few days, you’ve been hearing my opponents say not only that I was responsible for people losing their jobs, but that I actually enjoyed the process. That ought to tell you that these individuals aren’t ready to manage something as complex as the largest economy on the planet. We’ve already had three years of a president who believes that jobs are created or lost based on what kind of mood employers wake up in in the morning. But that’s just not true. Unlike politicians, employers have to face the harsh reality of balance sheets. Unlike politicians, employers often have to sacrifice today to ensure that they can keep the doors open tomorrow. A bad day for a politician is flubbing an interview. A bad day for an employer is not knowing how you’re going to meet the next payroll period.
I would remind my opponents – as I would remind President Obama – that work is a form of public service. Our ability to make money is directly tied to our ability to provide something of value to our fellow man. But sometimes when the customer’s needs change or when we lose ground to our competitors, we have to make changes. We don’t choose these circumstances. As a matter of fact, we hate these circumstances. But, like many Americans that are struggling today, we accept the things that we cannot change, we make the hard choices, and we persevere. That is never an easy task. And unfortunately, sometimes people lose their jobs as a result. But what, I wonder, do my opponents think the alternative is? If a company on the brink of failure has no choice but to let a few employees go now or to see all of their jobs disappear eventually, what should they do?
Those are the kind of painful choices that people face in the real economy. And I find it telling that that concept is foreign to my opponents. They’re not foreign to the American people – because they’re living through them every day. You can talk to anyone who’s ever sat behind a manager’s desk – whether it’s in a corner office or a corner store – and they’ll tell you that there’s nothing that they hate more than having to fire someone. Americans take pride in their work. Losing a paycheck hurts. But losing your sense of dignity hurts more. My experiences in business didn’t make me enjoy firing people. It made me loathe the politicians in Washington for whom those people are nothing more than statistics on a spreadsheet.
So let me tell you something that my opponents don’t understand. In businesses like the one I was in, you do well when the company you’ve invested in does well. And when they do well, it creates a virtuous cycle. Employees are better off because a thriving company can create jobs or increase pay and benefits. Consumers are better off because they can meet their needs within their budgets. And yes, management profits too when things are going well. And if my opponents have a problem with that, they’re running in the wrong primary.