Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Is Mitt Romney's "Business Experience" Really A Presidential Qualification?!?

While much has been made of Mitt Romney's flip-flopping, iffy Conservative credentials, lack of authenticity, and ear-bleed inducing singing, most amateur pundits and Professional Obama Haters™[1] trumpet his business experience as the factor that makes him most suited to face President Obama. After all, the economy is still the biggest issue in this upcoming election, and a man who has "run a successful business", as well as governing a large state should have some insight that makes him qualified to lead us out of this Obama-created depression.[2]

The funny thing about all that is that if you listen to Romney's debate performances, he simply trumps his "business experience" and "success" as reasons why he can "rescue us from Obama's wrath", but doesn't mention many particulars about exactly how he'd do this. Romney's own official campaign site has an 87 page PDF document called "Believe In America" that is little more than a collection of GOP Talkin' Points Greatest Hits. There's the usual boilerplate stuff about rolling back financial regulations, offshore drilling, cutting spending and taxes, limiting union bargaining rights, and... wait for it... repealing "Obamacare". Yes, "Obamacare". Not the "Affordable Healthcare Act", but the derisive term meant to obscure a set of policies pretty much every American agrees with my tying it to name half of Americans hate. So professional.

And so vague. If I needed a sleep aid, I'd go read the jobs plans on the sites of every other GOP contender past & present not named-Ron Paul, and I'd likely see the same verbiage, probably word for word. So in short, Romney isn't even promising any solutions that his opponents aren't[3], he's merely saying that his track record of getting sh*t done is better, so you should trust him more than those other guys, or our Kenyan President.

Fair enough. So let's look at Romney's supposed record of job creation.[4] I obviously have a natural disdain for quoting opinion commentary as the basis for my posts here, but Paul Krugman's recent NY Times article was so spot on (and fact filled) that I'll make an exception here.
Mr. Romney claims that Mr. Obama has been a job destroyer, while he was a job-creating businessman. For example, he told Fox News: “This is a president who lost more jobs during his tenure than any president since Hoover. This is two million jobs that he lost as president.” He went on to declare, of his time at the private equity firm Bain Capital, “I’m very happy in my former life; we helped create over 100,000 new jobs.”

But his claims about the Obama record border on dishonesty, and his claims about his own record are well across that border.

Start with the Obama record. It’s true that 1.9 million fewer Americans have jobs now than when Mr. Obama took office. But the president inherited an economy in free fall, and can’t be held responsible for job losses during his first few months, before any of his own policies had time to take effect. So how much of that Obama job loss took place in, say, the first half of 2009?

The answer is: more than all of it. The economy lost 3.1 million jobs between January 2009 and June 2009 and has since gained 1.2 million jobs. That’s not enough, but it’s nothing like Mr. Romney’s portrait of job destruction.

So Mr. Romney’s claims about the Obama job record aren’t literally false, but they are deeply misleading. Still, the real fun comes when we look at what Mr. Romney says about himself. Where does that claim of creating 100,000 jobs come from?

Well, Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post got an answer from the Romney campaign. It’s the sum of job gains at three companies that Mr. Romney “helped to start or grow”: Staples, The Sports Authority and Domino’s.

Mr. Kessler immediately pointed out two problems with this tally. It’s “based on current employment figures, not the period when Romney worked at Bain,” and it “does not include job losses from other companies with which Bain Capital was involved.” Either problem, by itself, makes nonsense of the whole claim.

On the point about using current employment, consider Staples, which has more than twice as many stores now as it did back in 1999, when Mr. Romney left Bain. Can he claim credit for everything good that has happened to the company in the past 12 years? In particular, can he claim credit for the company’s successful shift from focusing on price to focusing on customer service (“That was easy”), which took place long after he had left the business world?

Then there’s the bit about looking only at Bain-connected companies that added jobs, ignoring those that reduced their work forces or went out of business. Hey, if pluses count but minuses don’t, everyone who spends a day playing the slot machines comes out way ahead!

The point is that Mr. Romney’s claims about being a job creator would be nonsense even if he were being honest about the numbers, which he isn’t.

At this point, some readers may ask whether it isn’t equally wrong to say that Mr. Romney destroyed jobs. Yes, it is. The real complaint about Mr. Romney and his colleagues isn’t that they destroyed jobs, but that they destroyed good jobs.

When the dust settled after the companies that Bain restructured were downsized — or, as happened all too often, went bankrupt — total U.S. employment was probably about the same as it would have been in any case.
I'd encourage everyone to read the article. Romney's claim about the 100,000 jobs created has been debunked by several other reputable fact checking organizations, so there's no real point in rehashing it here. Reality is, a lot of his success was achieved by eliminating jobs, not creating them.

Other than his time at Bain, what else does Romney consider "business experience"? It's hard to fault his experience turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics, but it's equally difficult to find a parallel in that situation and running the Federal government in a time of economic turmoil. After all, Romney basically bailed out the Olympics by raising a bunch of private money from the very same folks (aka: corporate sponsors) he'd established business ties with while in charge of Bain. Not really sure how that relates to creating jobs on a national level.

As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney was likewise successful, balancing the budget by raising fees on things like driver's and marriage licenses, drastically cutting aid to cities and towns, and increasing a special gasoline retailer fee. Of course, it's in Massachusetts that he also instituted a state-wide health insurance mandate. Good luck with explaining that one away come the Fall. By the time he was finished with his first term in 2006, his approval rating was so low that he didn't even run for re-election. The state GOP was so out of favor that year that a black guy was actually elected Governor.

I'm just sayin'.

Look, I'm not here to badtalk Romney because I'm jealous of his success. Sure, I would have loved to have been born on 3rd base too, instead of in the dugout. Imagine all the runs I'd score.

But the assertion that his sterling business experience makes him uniquely qualified to run the country is a little misleading. Sure, it makes him better than the cast of clowns he's beating in those GOP primary, but the real game doesn't begin until next Fall.

Good luck, Mittens. Something tells me you might need it.

Question: Is Romney's "job creation experience" really all that?

[1] Yes, that's an actual job.

[2] Sure, it's not "his fault", but he has "only made a bad situation worse!" Right?

[3] To be fair, this is common in primaries. Contenders usually espouse practically identical platforms, which make these early contests more about track record and temperament than actual policy differences.

[4] In case you were wondering, yes, that pic above is photoshopped. It's still accurate, but not exactly real. And if you find this somehow offensive, refresh your memory and go look at this. Seriously, I'd love to be accused of being rich. Illegal? Not so much.

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