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The “Up In The Air” Candidate: Mitt Romney’s “I Like Being Able to Fire People” Problem

There’s a scene in the movie Up in the Air in which George Clooney’s character, a corporate hatchet man who  flies around the country firing people on behalf of his merger masters, turns  to his eager young apprentice and explains why he’s able to avoid romantic  entanglements:

“You know that moment when  you look into somebody’s eyes and you can  feel them staring into your soul and  the whole world goes quiet just  for a second?”

She answers, “Yes.”

And  Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, replies with hollow certainty, “Right, well I don’t.”

Ladies and gentlemen, meet former Gov. Mitt Romney, the “Up in the  Air” candidate. Romney’s Bain Capital was the living  embodiment of the Up in the Air  ethic: form an investment group, take over the  businesses, and fire  the workers to pay off the investors. The human wreckage  that resulted  was merely collateral damage.

On Monday, Mitt Romney strung  together seven words that should never  be connected by any candidate: “I like  being able to fire people.” Romney was speaking about being able to fire people providing him services, but the quotation figures to haunt him long after its context has been forgotten.

That because of Romney’s long-term problem: the feeling among  voters that in many cases, “I like  being able to fire people” is  exactly what he meant for the workaday folks at  the companies Bain Capital picked clean.

As the New York Times  put it in their editorial, “The Corporate Candidates,”

The problem  with Mr.  Romney’s pitch is the kind of businessman he was:  specifically, a buyer of  flailing companies who squeezed out the  inefficiencies (often known as  employees) and then sold or merged them  for a hefty profit. More than a fifth  of them later went bankrupt…This  kind of leveraged capitalism…is one of the  reasons for the growth in  the income gap, tipping the wealth in the economy  toward the people at  the top.

One of these companies, as according to Reuters,  was a steel mill in Kansas City that Bain took over in 1993 and went   bankrupt in 2001, putting 750 people out of work. Reuters reports that  Bain’s  profits were $12 million on its $8 million initial investment  and at least $4.5  million in consulting fees

Meanwhile, one of the people  Bain helped put out of work,

Joe  Soptic found a job as a  school custodian. The $24,000 salary was  roughly one-third of his former pay,  and the health plan did not cover  his wife, Ranae.

When Ranae started losing  weight, “I tried to get her to the doctor  and she wouldn’t go,”  Soptic said. She ended up in the county hospital  with pneumonia, where doctors  discovered her advanced lung cancer. She  died two weeks later.

Soptic was left with nearly  $30,000 in medical bills. He drained a  $12,000 savings account and the hospital  wrote off the balance.

“I worked hard all my  life and played by the rules, and they allowed this to happen,” Soptic  said.

Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign has  gleefully jumped on Romney’s “I like  being able to fire people” stumble and  turned it into a ringtone, since  Perry’s towel-snapping days at A&M are  never far behind  him. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, bankrolled  by (ironically)  antilabor casino owner Sheldon Adelson, is running ads and   infomercials in South Carolina hammering Romney over Bain. Copying Sen.  Teddy  Kennedy in ’94, Gingrich is relying on the laid-off workers to  tell Romney’s  story. And even former Gov. Jon Huntsman, the supposed  nice guy in the campaign, told MSNBC’s  Morning Joe on Tuesday that Romney has no “core”.

All of this is laying down an effective emotional narrative for  the Obama re-election campaign. Voters,  as any pollster can tell you,  decide how they feel about a candidate and once  they have there’s  little you can do to change it. The question isn’t whether  the Bain  attacks have factual resonance, the question is whether they have   emotional resonance.

Should Romney get the  nomination—and odds are he will—the emotional  belief that Mitt Romney is the  empty, “Up in the Air” Candidate will be  his undoing in November.


By: Laura Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, January 10, 2012

January 11, 2012 - Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , ,

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