WASHINGTON — Does being a successful businessman in this anti-Wall Street atmosphere disqualify one from being president of the United States, even when one's experience includes the governorship of a major state?
And, if so, does a background of community organizing, two years in the U.S. Senate and failure to fulfill a promise of massive change in four years deserve a second term in the Oval Office?
President Barack Obama's reelection campaign seems to be based at least at the moment on persuading voters that both do: That Republican Mitt Romney's claims of turning around the unemployment rate are hollow because of his management of Bain Capital, which was instrumental in outsourcing huge numbers of American jobs.
At the same time, Romney retorts that Bain didn't do the outsourcing but only represented companies that did.
It seems to me that Obama's charges overlook the fact that, for the last two decades, the downsizing by American business executives to produce more efficient, streamlined companies has been a way of life enhanced by technology and often a necessity to survive. A key factor, obviously, is the need to find the lowest worker costs. That practice began in the 19th century when textile and shoe manufacturers fled the Northeast to the low wages of the South.
China's current business renaissance originally was based on cheap labor, but its economy has slipped some as workers — seeing the success they have helped bring about — have begun demanding a larger share of the pie. This is simple economics combined with human nature. Jobs are constantly on the move, as the Chinese are beginning to find out.
In answering the Romney allegations, Obama has fallen back on the time-tested campaign tactic of noting that most of the blame for his failures in the first term resides with his predecessor.
That has worked in the past but usually in better economic times. When voter pocketbooks ache, they don't have much sympathy for the excuse that "George did it" — at least that's what Romney is counting on as he campaigns on the old political axiom of whatever happens on your watch is your responsibility.
Therefore, the current lack of new jobs and forecast of even more disruption in the job market are all Obama's problems to deal with. It seems to me, fueling the current attacks on business by discounting an opponent's experience is not a terribly responsible thing to do.
But then, neither was running around four years ago contending that the world would change dramatically because being a onetime community organizer who took a swipe at teaching constitutional law and a brief political career was just the kind of experience needed to put the nation right again. But the voters bought into it.
The fact is, the most qualified person four years ago was Hillary Clinton, as she has shown time and again by her masterful job as the nation's top foreign policy official. It is not unusual these days for the president's opponents to be heard openly opining that "We would have been far better off with Hillary," an astounding comment given their original animosity to her.
The president's ill-chosen remark a while back — that it is government employees who are hurting and not those in the public sector, where things were better — still is reverberating among the jobless. In the current atmosphere of increasing dismay, it is easier to believe that Romney's very wealth stems from his lack of sensitivity about that class of individuals who have given up entirely on finding a job. Certainly that was the case when George H.W. Bush lost the presidency under similar circumstances but during times that were far less dire. The successful Clinton slogan "It's the economy, stupid" carries far more meaning now.
It is difficult to buy into the argument that Romney would do less to paint a better job landscape. When comparing experience for the White House, one must obviously come to the conclusion that, at this juncture, the experience of the leading contender for the job four years ago, Barack Obama, had far less promise, and that what has occurred since has shown what that can mean in tough economic times.
E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at email@example.com.
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