WASHINGTON –- President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, continuing its attempts to paint Mitt Romney as a ruthless corporate raider, went so far Wednesday as to suggest that if he were president, the Republican would not care whether more Americans had jobs.
"The goal of Romney economics has always been about wealth creation, not job creation. It's wealth creation for a handful of investors, like Mitt Romney, not about creating jobs for everybody else," said Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager.
"That was Romney's guiding principle in the private sector, and he promises it will be his guiding principle as president," she said.
The argument by the Obama campaign is that Romney's policies on taxes and regulation would favor the rich. But Cutter's argument that Romney would not care about increasing employment defies common sense.
One of the biggest reasons that Obama is facing such a tough reelection this year is an unemployment rate that has remained painfully high. It was at 7.8 percent in January 2009 when Obama took office, and is now at 8.1 percent, having risen as high as 10 percent in October 2009.
The monthly jobs number, released the first Friday of each month, and its impact on the unemployment rate is seen as one of the key indicators of whether the economy is improving.
Top Obama advisers such as David Plouffe, however, have said that "the average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers."
But even Plouffe's standard of how regular Americans view the economy -- "through their own personal prism" -- doesn't change the fact that a politician who didn't care whether more Americans got jobs would be quickly out of favor and out of a job.
Romney and Obama have a difference of opinion about how to create more jobs, not whether or not there should be more jobs. The Obama campaign's strategy this week has been to portray Romney as heartless, highlighting a handful of deals from his career at his old firm, Bain Capital in which companies were overloaded with debt and Bain executives got big payouts while employees at the companies lost their jobs.
But even if Romney were heartless, political self-interest would force him to care about jobs, because it is one of the basic markers by which voters judge a president.
Cutter, on a call with reporters, introduced two people who lost jobs at companies acquired by Bain. They also spoke out against the former private equity executive.
Bain "didn't create jobs. They truly slashed and burned them," said Cindy Hewitt, a former employee at Dade Behring, a medical diagnostics equipment firm that Bain bought in 1996. Ultimately, Dade fired more than 1,600 workers and filed for bankruptcy in 2002.
Randy Johnson, who worked at the Bain-owned Ampad paper factory in Marion, Ind., until he was fired in 1992, was even more withering. Romney "likes to boast about firing people. He fired me and he fired my coworkers," Johnson said.
Johnson's claim that Romney himself fired him is likely incorrect. Romney was on a leave of absence from Bain from 1991 to 1992, helping his mentor Bill Bain salvage the company from a budget and financing crisis.
In addition, Romney's line that he likes "firing people" was related to having the ability to choose among health providers as a consumer, not a reference to enjoying depriving a worker of his job. But the line, uttered by Romney at a New Hampshire campaign stop in January, lent itself to easy political attacks, like Johnson's.
"What kind of person likes firing people or even boasting about that?" Johnson said. "And what kind of person would actually get out and say that on TV? I mean, how could you be that proud? Well, how could a person like that go anywhere near the White House, especially at a time when we're trying to put people back to work?"
Cutter said that Romney was "very successful at one thing -- at creating wealth for him and his investors, getting a return on that investment."
"He wasn't successful at ensuring that people get to keep their jobs, that they got to keep their health care, that they could count on their pensions being there, and that if Mitt Romney was investing in a company he was doing it in for the right reasons: to strengthen the company for the long term to ensure that those jobs are protected and those communities continue to grow," she said.
Cutter repeated the mantra that the Obama campaign has hammered this week, that Romney took away the wrong "lessons and values" from his time at Bain.
She did not respond to an e-mail asking why Romney, if he were president, would not want unemployment to go down, if for no other reason than out of self-interest.