The attacks on Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker (D) by the more vitriolic liberal commentators for what he said about Bain Capital on this past Sunday's Meet the Press are just as indefensible as the Republican Party's cynical and dishonest attempt to exploit and distort what the mayor actually said during the program.
In fact, as a "surrogate" for the Obama campaign, Booker strongly supported President Obama's programs, such as national health care, and reminded viewers that under President Obama, "over 90 percent of Americans have seen tax cuts" and that Romney "would have let the auto industry fail."
Still, liberal commentators expressed outrage when the mayor went "off message" and said there is nothing wrong per se with the private-equity business model followed by Bain Capital. This was so even though several days before, two strong Obama supporters and progressive Democrats, Steven Rattner (who himself runs a successful private equity firm) and former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (Tenn.), made the same point on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
Private-equity firms often invest in distressed companies by putting in cash and cutting expenses in order to save a company that is already close to bankruptcy. Sometimes the investment works and the company and jobs are saved. And sometimes, to save the company, jobs need to be cut or wages and benefits reduced.
Does that sound familiar? It should. It's called the General Motors bailout, widely touted by President Obama and Democrats as a success story, which it was. GM, facing bankruptcy, laid off tens of thousands of workers, reduced wages and benefits among some remaining workers, and the rest is the good news. GM was saved and is now making billions in profits, with most of the "equity" tax dollars having been repaid. Romney opposed that successful "taxpayer" equity investment for reasons that escape me.
The Obama anti-Romney Bain Capital campaign ad focused on a Kansas City steel company, GS Technologies, which was on the verge of bankruptcy when Bain Capital purchased it in 1993 for $80 million. GS went bankrupt in 2001, with several hundred workers losing their jobs. The ad featured several of them blaming Romney and Bain for the lost jobs, but it omitted several facts, such as:
Mitt Romney had left Bain Capital two years before bankruptcy had been declared;
The head of Bain at the time of the GS bankruptcy decision is now a major Obama fundraiser;
Bain invested another $100 million in plant modernization and, four years later, the company reportedly had reached over $1 billion in revenues.
After the company went bankrupt in 2001, the president of the plant's union didn't blame Bain, but rather, cheap foreign imports. "We can't compete against the steel imports that are being sold under cost," he said.
It's difficult to argue, even if you are a partisan Obama supporter, as I am, that this ad is not at least somewhat misleading.
You would think the Republicans and the Romney campaign would have been smart enough to follow the rule, "when the other side has made a mistake and is shooting at each other, be quiet and stay out of the way."
But no -- they just couldn't resist. They took Booker's Meet comments on Bain out of context, omitted his positive comments about President Obama and -- voila! -- the mayor and the rest of us who were critical of the Bain Capital ad were reminded why it is so important to unite to support President Obama and defeat Mitt Romney.
My own reaction when I saw the Republican National Committee website with a hypocritical petition calling for support of Mayor Booker was to remember the famous line addressed to the demagogic Sen. Joseph McCarthy: "Have you no shame?"
The best closing to this ugly episode in the 2012 presidential campaign was eloquently stated by Booker about the negative food fight that has already begun between the two campaigns:
"Enough is enough."
Let's get back to the issues.
My view: Democrats can win this thing on the facts. No need for misleading ads.
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Mr. Davis, a Washington D.C. attorney specializing in legal crisis management, served as Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton in 1996-98 and served as a member of President Bush's Privacy and Civil Liberties Board in 2006-07. He currently serves as Special Counsel to Dilworth Paxson. He is the author of the forthcoming book, "Crisis Tales - Five Rules for Handling Scandal in Business, Politics and Life," to be published by Simon & Schuster.
Follow Lanny Davis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@lannydavis