Economy & Budget

Romney should embrace his past — all of it

Romney should embrace his past -- all of it

UPDATE: Mitt Romney took to TV tonight to answer critics: “I was the owner of the entity that was filing this information, but I had no role whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after 1999. I left in February of 1999. There’s nothing wrong with being associated with Bain Capital, of course.”

Mitt Romney should just get it all over with and release his tax records — whether he has accounts in the Cayman Islands or El Dorado — and then begin unequivocally defending his tenure as a private equity banker. In fact, he should be defending the entire industry.

If a majority of voters believe that the über-wealthy should be disqualified from the presidency — a proposition that drives Team Obama’s entire attack — then Romney’s going to lose anyway. But every day that the noise surrounding the election is about the timeline of Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital or his lack of transparency about his wealth, Team Obama is allowed to create a false impression that there is wrongdoing and avoid defending its own dismal record. It allows Obama to create the parameters of the debate, which are, needless to say, based on paranoid populism and economic illiteracy.

We recently learned that Bain filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2002 that showed Romney as sole owner, chairman of the board, chief executive officer and president. This is supposedly a big deal because Romney has always maintained that he left Bain in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics. Bain, in fact, paid Romney $100,000 in 2001 and 2002 – which is impressive change for the average journalist, but it’s probably the cost of a weekend vacation for the Romney clan. Good for him.

Of course, as with most Bain hysteria, there doesn’t seem to be much there. The SEC filings show that “Mr. Romney has not had any active role with any Bain Capital entity and has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way.” If that statement is proven untrue, then yes, Romney is toast — and should be. But there has been no evidence.

Not that evidence can ever stop politics. You’ve probably heard that Stephanie Cutter claimed that Romney was “misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony. Or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments.” Well, the consequences of Bain’s investments were mostly productive for the economy, occasionally not, but unlike the “investments” of this administration, companies like Bain would never wastefully pump hundreds of millions of dollars into unproductive Luddite experiments like Solyndra. Why hasn’t Romney made that distinction more clearly?

And does the average voter care one wit about when and where Romney was in what year with Bain? I doubt it. Romney has to defend his former profession in toto. Bain invested in corporations that outsourced and off-shored and, no doubt, laid off many innocent workers. Keeping unproductive companies afloat might be a fantastic ending to a feel-good movie or an integral part of congressional legislation, but I can’t imagine that responsible voters will fail to comprehend — perhaps only intuitively — that creative destruction is an important part of economic growth.

On taxes: What’s worse for Romney? 1. What America is going to find in his tax returns. — or — 2. Looking like you’re trying to hide something? It would seem to me, at least, that releasing them now, when attention is less sharply focused on specifics and voters already understand that the Republican candidate is filthy rich, would allow the Romney campaign time to devise effective rebuttals.

Not to mention, presidential candidates should be transparent about their lives. If Romney does this, he would be able to demand (and never get) the same level of transparency from Obama on his college transcripts and other yet-to-be-released information.

But until then, Romney looks like he’s hiding from something ugly or corrupt.

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