President Obama's Bain Capital assault takes an unexpected detour

Published: Monday, May 21 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this May 9, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the White House in Washington.

Associated Press

President Barack Obama's camp had to scramble Sunday to recover its message after Newark, N.J., Mayor Corey Booker, a charismatic rising star known for speaking his mind, called attacks on Romney's Bain Capital days "nauseating."

"The remark was a badly off-script tangent for Booker," wrote Michael O'Brien on MSNBC's First Read, noting that Booker is "regarded as a rising star within the Democratic Party, and an effective surrogate for Obama. The president's re-election campaign had worked all week to drive a message painting Romney's experience at Bain as primarily motivated by profits at all costs, rather than the expertise on job creation that Romney has sought to project."

Speaking on Meet the Press on Sunday, Booker said, "It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright."

Booker seemingly threw the coda about Jeremiah Wright, Obama's controversial former Chicago pastor, into the mix to make his comments appear more balanced. Earlier in the previous week there was some buzz about an anti-Obama Super PAC possibly attacking the Wright connection, but at the time Booker spoke on Sunday, that notion had been put to rest.

In fact, Booker's Meet the Press conversation centered on Obama's attacks on Bain, so Booker's comments on Wright came off as an obligatory side comment, not an equally weighted thrust.

By Monday, Booker, under pressure from the Obama campaign, reformulated his statement on YouTube. He did not reverse his statements on Bain nor his defense of private equity. He did, however, say that Romney's record at Bain is fair game for scrutiny:

"Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign … and therefore, it is reasonable — and in fact, I encourage it for the Obama campaign — to examine that record and to discuss it. I have no problem with that."

And he reiterated his objections to negative campaigning:

"I also professed, on 'Meet the Press,' my profound frustration with the kind of campaigning that I think is becoming too much of the norm in our nation which is generally negative campaigning. And this campaigning is about to become an avalanche, and in many ways, I believe, could potentially risk muting out the important voices of the candidates themselves talking about the issues that matter," he said.

Obama's attacks on Bain have been very much on the front burner.

Vice President Joe Biden was calling Romney a corporate raider last week, and according to Thomas Sheeran at the Christian Science Monitor, "Obama's campaign and an independent group that supports the president have begun airing ads in several states, including Ohio, that highlight the failure of a Missouri-based steel company that was bought by Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney helped get off the ground. GST Steel later went bankrupt in 2001, costing 750 people their jobs."

At Salon on Monday, Glenn Greenwald pointed out that Democrats have received more donations from Bain execs than Republicans, and noted a new Washington Post report that shows a White House still remarkably open to lobbyists.

On Sunday, a Wall Street Journal editorial defended Bain, pointing out that the model articulated by its critics could not have sustained itself over time:

"If Bain's standard operating procedure were to hand the next owner of one of its companies a ticking bankruptcy package, how is Bain still finding buyers nearly three decades later? And who would agree to lend money to a company backed by Bain? Wouldn't word have gotten around by, say, 1987 that Bain's portfolio companies weren't creditworthy?"

"The liberal critique of private equity assumes that the financial industry is full of saps who have been eager to lose money across the table from Bain for 28 years. This is the same financial industry that the same liberal critics say is full of greedy schemers when it comes to padding their own pay or ripping off consumers. But financiers can't be both knaves and diabolical geniuses at the same time."

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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