"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me" may well become Mitt Romney's most memorable line, if only because he actually meant it.
Romney responded to criticism of his words of wisdom by playing the victim, outraged that a comment about the joys of changing insurance providers could be taken so out of context. But Romney himself created the context when he built his career and massive fortune in part by firing many thousands of ordinary, hard-working people.
The fact that the man who believes "corporations are people, my friend" chose the words "I like," "fire" and, yes, "people" underscores his compassion-free condescension towards the 99 percent, especially when they get in his way.
Almost everyone has been fired at one time or another. My turn came ten years ago, after venture capitalists heavily leveraged the buyout of a company I'd run for a couple of decades. Our firm -- which had been making boatloads of money -- now had to make mega-boatloads just to service the debt and stay even. The firing was as cold as it gets, but there's no way the firer enjoyed his task.
Romney wants you to believe that his years as CEO of Bain Capital forged a business super-hero battling the rough and tumble of free market capitalism at its best -- parachuting in to rescue dying firms, creating "win-win" outcomes. The truth is that all too often Bain's exit strategy depended on ruthless cost-cutting to produce stripped-down, flip-worthy enterprises. The easiest way to do this? Get rid of staff while slashing salaries and benefits for the shell-shocked survivors now forced to do double duty.
A New York Times editorial puts the lie to Romney's accusation that critics of his tenure at Bain are "putting capitalism on trial." Mitt's defenders (read courtiers) tend toward the comical. Ann Coulter, who previously dismissed Romney as a loser, writes, "his critics live in a world in which no one can ever be fired -- a world known as 'the government.'" And John McCain -- who said of Romney in 2008, "He presided over the acquisition of companies that laid off thousands of workers" -- now says the alternative to Romney-style capitalism is nothing short of communism!
Courtiers aside, even the Murdoch-owned, pro-Republican New York Post understands the difference between healthy capitalism and the way Bain routinely conducted business. A Post story last winter explained: "Romney's private equity firm, Bain Capital, bought companies and often increased short-term earnings so those businesses could then borrow enormous amounts of money. That borrowed money was used to pay Bain dividends."
Venture capitalism can, and often does, serve a useful function, especially for innovative start-ups. But that's not what Bain was all about. Romney's zest for firing -- of a piece with his views that we should have let GM go bankrupt and ought to leave victims of foreclosure twisting in the wind -- suggests, well, a less than humane modus operandi.
When asked about the growing public rage at the increasing income inequality in America, the
Mittsterizer first said it was all about envy. When pressed, he added another line destined for immortality: "You know, I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like." Reverend Al Sharpton's sight-gag send up of a "quiet room" speaks for itself.
I've participated in hundreds of meetings involving letting employees go. And the only time anyone uses "I like" and "fire" in the same sentence is to express affection for a certain summer getaway spot. Even Donald Trump, the super-rich ultra-narcissist who made "You're Fired" a pop culture catch phrase, says he prefers to delegate his firings: "Generally I like other people to fire, because it's always a lousy task."
On Friday, Romney told a Florida audience, "I'm concerned about the poor in this country. We have to make sure the safety net is strong and able to help those who can't help themselves." He also pandered, "I'm not terribly worried about the very wealthiest in our society; they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the vast middle class of our nation, the 90 percent of Americans, the 95 percent of Americans who are having tough times."
It's pretty clear Romney was trying to cover his tracks at Bain -- to assert his commitment to America's unemployed, the elderly, the infirm. But it's also possible to read his new language as a therapist surely would, because the one man incapable of helping himself is Romney, the candidate who, try as he might, can't help revealing what he really thinks: "I got mine."
Follow Michael Sigman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/majorsongs