Mitt Romney's getting stomped in the news cycle, about outsourcing, wealth and Bain Capital. While it's no surprise that he's accidentally one of the people raining down the fiercest blows, it's stunning to see that the other people are Republicans and Democrats. Honest, real Democrats. Not New Black Panthers controlled by UN mind beams from Obama's home in that black cube in Mecca.
The targets on Romney are both personal and professional. Controversy over his Bain record led GOP governors and serially wrong clownface Bill Kristol to call for Romney to release years of his tax returns.
It's tough to think of the last time a Democratic candidate had an ad this beautifully crafted and devastating. Most attack ads feature the same tropes—sinister voiceovers, black-and-white figures, crooked angles, ominous Ken Burns-effect panning across photos. The clichés are so sophomoric and so ingrained that the best example of one might as well be Something Awful's 2004 campaign ad for Cobra Commander.
Here, instead, is something simple. Romney sings badly, embarrassingly off key, his inept command of the song representing his command of the country it's about. (If you heard it in the other room, without seeing the ad, it would probably inspire a visceral disgust on its own.) The quotes about him highlight the shallowness of his patriotism and national benefit of his business expertise. What commentary exists is subdued: the final two lines are unspoken. The most active agency in the ad—the big reverb and quasi-tannoy effect on Mitt's voice—makes it sound as if it emerges from a neglected loudspeaker and echoes in an abandoned factory.
Romney's voice really is the perfect vehicle for this kind of ad, because it was his voice that created it. If he hadn't inaptly attacked Obama and ineptly defended himself, the ad might never have happened.
Here's how it unfolded. Last week, the Boston Globe (with help) reported that Romney had maintained ties with his former company, Bain Capital, long after 1999, the year he cites on the campaign trail as his last on the payroll:
Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed later by Bain Capital state he remained the firm's "sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president."
Also, a Massachusetts financial disclosure form Romney filed in 2003 states that he still owned 100 percent of Bain Capital in 2002. And Romney's state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain "executive" in 2001 and 2002.
These facts contradict financial disclosures he made this year and in 2007, as part of his presidential candidacies, in which his campaign stated, "Since February 11, 1999, Mr. Romney has... not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way." However, the Globe
found nine SEC filings submitted by four different business entities after February 1999 that describe Romney as Bain Capital's boss; some show him with managerial control over five Bain Capital entities that were formed in January 2002, according to records in Delaware, where they were incorporated.
This is the bind Romney finds himself in: he has to decide who to claim he was telling the truth to. If he was telling the truth to voters, then he was lying to the SEC, which is a felony. (An Obama deputy campaign manager made this same point, which, while technically correct, provoked an incendiary backlash and drew attention to her. The Obama campaign wants no part of that attention.) If he was telling the truth to the SEC, then it's clear his Bain record has always been a protean lie for everyone else.
Bain matters for two reasons. First, Romney used his continued association with Bain to meet a Massachusetts ballot challenge in 2002, referring to his current status as a leave of absence. Then, when Democratic opponent Shannon O'Brien hit him with ads about Bain outsourcing jobs and devastating American families, Romney asserted that he bore no responsibility for Bain's actions after 1999, since he wasn't in charge. That's been his line since.
Romney's campaigns have thus created their own problem. The Globe's articles wouldn't have had so much impact if, as Slate's Dave Weigel pointed out, the Romney campaign and the candidate himself hadn't so stridently insisted that Romney and Bain severed all ties in 1999. Romney needed Bain to stay on the Massachusetts gubernatorial ballot, then needed to disavow its practices when it could cost him the gubernatorial election. He cites the Bain record as proof that he has what it takes to run the country (some equity fund managers beg to differ), but he insists that Bain's record of outsourcing jobs has nothing to do with him. He wasn't there. He knew nothing. "I was dead at the time."
It almost doesn't matter, because, as Brad DeLong points out, no part of Romney's defense works. If he was president, chairman, CEO and sole stockholder of Bain Capital, it's ludicrous to assume that he had no influence in Bain investments and was unaware that Bain was involved in companies' outsourcing. And if he'd just left the company—and somehow wasn't lying to anybody—then he was president, chairman CEO and sole stockholder when the company created a culture that accepted outsourcing jobs and hired, trained and then entrusted the company to people who outsourced jobs.
This is how we wend our way to that blistering Obama campaign attack ad. Romney used the recent disappointing jobs report to blast Obama's handling of the economy. His Bain record proved that he had the business know-how where Obama was merely a dunce with a tool labeled GUMMYMINT in his belt. Obama replied by focusing on Bain's outsourcing record. Obama wanted to know if the buck stopped with Romney—if, in the private-sector and GOP cult of THE LEADER, Romney would accept responsibility for the actions of the company he founded and then molded with his ideals. You don't get to be called general only when you're winning battles.
The Globe report merely electrified an existing discussion. It robbed Romney of his shaggy, "it wasn't me" defense, while giving Obama's familiar outsourcing complaints new vigor. Romney tried to throw up "outrage chaff" regarding Obama's deputy campaign manager's "felony" line about his SEC filings, going on five different networks and—incredibly—demanding an apology.
That's the Obama campaign ad: "Here's your apology—go fuck yourself."
Romney's reply is akin to his pummeling himself in the face and asking Obama, "Why ya hittin' yourself?" Over the weekend, his campaign tried to float the ludicrous talking point that he "retired retroactively." Underage college kids: go buy some beer tonight on the basis of projected legality.
These are strange times. In most elections, watching the Republicans and Democrats go at it is like watching that one elementary school kid—the one who already needs to shave—playing tetherball with the kid with no arms. The Republicans are great brutes with self-esteem problems, and the other kid is so punch drunk from so many recess dates with unremitting abuse that he's started trying to return each tetherball strike face-first.
Instead, a proudly dog-whistling chin-hoarder like Haley Barbour and an apex predator of Arab people like Bill Kristol are urging Romney to release his tax returns now. Better to finally delineate Mitt's relationship to Bain. Better to finally show his Swiss bank doesn't have a Chamber of Secrets and a bunch of Brigham Youngs in cloning tanks. FIGHT IT OVER HERE SO WE DON'T HAVE TO FIGHT IT OVER IN OCTOBER.
This isn't how things are supposed to happen. Republicans don't reel. Honesty isn't actually the best policy, and veteran GOP strategists don't concede, "There is no whining in politics. Stop demanding an apology, release your tax returns."