Hitting Romney where it hurts, and why running around yelling "Cory Booker!" won't help the GOP

On this Sunday's Meet the Press, Newark mayor Cory Booker went "off-message" and took a GOP talking point bait - defending private equity firms and their business, in light of the Obama campaign going straight at Mitt Romney's business record at Bain Capital. I say he took a Republican talking point bait because he fell into the trap of the Republican party attempting to define the president's campaign anti-business, or even anti-private equity terms.

As Mayor Booker clarified later in a video message, however, this isn't about private equity in general, or about business. It is about Mitt Romney's claim that his particular business experience prepares him to do a better job at creating jobs at a faster rate in this country. As the president himself explained, this is about the difference between profit maximization for wealthy investors (the job of a corporate buyout specialist) vs. ensuring jobs for the middle class and the poor (the job of the President of the United States).

And there lies the big economic debate of this election: the conservative view of economics sees no difference between maximizing the income of the wealthy few and building a middle class. Their theory, proven wrong time and again, is that if we simply hand the well-to-do more and more money, then that wealth will trickle down to create jobs for the rest of us. This is why the Republicans see the scrutinizing of Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital as "an attack on free enterprise." In their world, any policy that is not geared toward maximizing profits for the select few, without regard to the great many, is "an attack on free enterprise."

Mitt Romney and his party aren't so incensed about the Bain scrutiny just because of that though. They are incensed because the scrutiny and the exposure by the Obama campaign is actually succeeding at dismantling that narrative. That is bad for both Mitt Romney and conservative voodoo economics at once. President Obama is making this election not just a choice between his record and Mitt Romney's - which would be bad enough for Romney - he's turning this election into a choice between the conservative and progressive economic visions.

On the conservative side is the economic vision that Mitt Romney very much embodies. It is about creating more and more wealth for the few. It is about more than just an economic vision: it is about a social vision. A social vision in which wealth is the barometer of worth and the determinant of opportunity. This is a vision that believes that the rich are rich because they deserve it, and the poor are poor because they deserve it. This is a vision that fundamentally believes in an economically segregated society in which economic mobility is non-existent. It believes that social contracts are immoral, that society bears no responsibility for children, the elderly, the disabled and the involuntarily unemployed. This is the thread that binds their support for Mitt Romney's performance at Bain together with special tax treatments for people in his class.

On the other side is the progressive economic vision championed by President Obama. This is a vision that believes that everyone deserves a decent shot, that we as a country are responsible for the common good, and that only through a society that creates opportunities for everyone will we advance as a country. This is an economic vision in which everyone plays by the same rules, everyone pays their fair share and everyone has a fair shot. It's a vision that fosters new ideas, incubates ingenuity, and creates new industry. It's one that builds a great middle class that becomes the backbone of a consumer economy.

That's what this election is about. This election isn't about the particular functions of corporate buyout specialists - it's about whether being a corporate buyout specialist qualifies you to be President of the United States. This election isn't about whether or not firms ought to be able to have a singular focus on making money for their investors regardless of the consequences on workers; it's about whether we want the President of the United States to be focused on the workers or the big moneyed investors. This election is about examining two records: one of the current president, who has pulled us out of the worst recession since the 1930s, and one of his GOP challenger, whose sole self-asserted claim to qualifying for the presidency is his experience as a corporate buyout specialist that netted him and his firm an ocean of cash but seems to have left far too many economic casualties in his path.

The American people deserve a fair evaluation of Mr. Romney's record as that corporate buyout specialist, not in the least due to his own claim to being better qualified to create jobs based on that record. We deserve to know what Mitt Romney told the laid-off workers at the companies that Bain Capital profited from bankrupting, because you can be sure that's what he'd say to American workers who lose their jobs due Romney's public policies of concentrating wealth at the top. The American people deserve to know just how Mitt Romney would address the federal debt when his own business model was to buy companies and load them up with debt on their way to bankruptcy.

These are serious times. We need serious people, and serious answers. This isn't about Cory Booker. This isn't about political point-scoring. This isn't about Sunday morning talk-shows. This is about the future of this country. This is about whether we will sell our country to a corporate buyout specialist. We know that when we have a fair debate on these terms, Mitt Romney has no hope, because he can give no hope. So he can't have a fair debate on these terms. That's why, instead, "Cory Booker."

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