One controversial ad by an Obama SuperPAC encapsulates so much that makes the 2012 presidential campaign distinctive:
– In its specifics, the ad is deceptive and brutally unfair. It suggests that by closing a Missouri steel plant and stripping its workers of health insurance, Mitt Romney and Bain Capital were in part responsible for the subsequent death of a worker’s wife by cancer. It’s the kind of gut-wrenching charge that — if made at all — at least ought to be strongly backed by facts. Instead, the implication that Romney is to blame is barely plausible at best, given the timelines involved. Those who condemn the ad as irresponsible are correct in that assessment.
– However, in a Citizens United world, in which quasi-independent groups raise and spend vast amounts of campaign cash, this type of ad will become more and more familiar. Candidates can claim to have no knowledge of or control over such advertisements, and thus no responsibility for it. The rich donors who paid for the ad are often anonymous, meaning they too cannot be held responsible. And if no one is responsible, irresponsibility results. This is not rocket science, even if the geniuses on the Supreme Court are unable to grasp it.
– Accuracy aside, the underlying theme of the ad is powerful and emotionally resonant. Outside predators such as Mitt Romney and Bain Capital can perform a useful function in a capitalist economy. They come into a company and make ruthless, heartless decisions without regard to the human cost, decisions that those with a longer history or commitment to the company perhaps cannot bring themselves to make. Over the long haul, in a macro-economic sense, that can be useful. But one of the primary questions of the 2012 race is whether the American people will be comfortable putting a person with that mentality and background in the Oval Office.
– Appearing on Fox News Wednesday, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul denounced the ad in question as deceptive and unfair. However, she also noted that if the steelworkers in question had been working in Massachusetts instead of Missouri, their health coverage would have been protected by the health-insurance program created by Romney, a program that later served as the direct model for ObamaCare:
“To that point, you know, if people had been in Massachusetts under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Saul said. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and their health care in President Obama’s economy.”
While Saul’s observation was valid, it caused a huge outrage among conservatives, with many calling for Saul’s firing for the outrageous act of actually telling the truth. Es ist verboten on the right to acknowledge even the existence of RomneyCare during this campaign, let alone that it actually might serve a useful function.
That brings us back once again to the central question of the 2012 campaign: If we are to live in an Bain-type economy in which brutish efficiency is the primary goal and the human impact is not to be considered in decision-making, what steps if any should government take to protect individual Americans from the worst vagaries of that process?
In an era of increasingly no-holds-barred capitalism, do we also slash unemployment insurance, job training, Medicaid benefits, Social Security and ObamaCare, so that individuals are even more fully exposed to the cruel caprices of free enterprise? Or do such programs become even more important in an era in which jobs, companies and indeed entire industries can disappear quickly?
– Jay Bookman