The worst thing about Mitt Romney's condescending Ayn Randian rants down in Boca Raton wasn't the part where he makes the novel argument that it's easier to become president when you're a Hispanic (because... we've had so many of these?) or where he claims that it's "high risk" to appear on TV's The View, suggesting that confronting Putin may not be as hard as going toe-to-toe with Joy Behar.
It's arguably not even the evil banality of the contemptuous words he uses to describe nearly half of the United States of America that he proposes to lead -- "victims" and "dependents" who feel that basic human needs like food or shelter are "an entitlement."
No, the worst thing about Mitt Romney and his hedge-fundy Florida host -- the vulture capitalist and part-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers Marc Leder -- is their audacity, to "offshore" thousands of good-paying U.S. jobs to China and to use fiscal shenanigans to strip workers of their hard-earned pensions, and then to sneer at those people as "victims."
Indeed, as much media coverage as the slow-motion release of the secret Romney tapes has received over the last 24 hours, and deservedly so, there's been a surprising lack of context. Yes, it is stunning that the Republican candidate for president could use such harsh words and such a smug tone to describe 47 percent of the electorate. But in addition to Romney's appalling lack of understanding of what Americans do not pay federal income taxes and why, the symptoms of this "victim"-hood he so deplores -- such as a rising number of citizens receiving food stamps -- were in large part created by the practices of Wall Street types like Marc Leder, Mitt Romney, and his millionaire and billionaire campaign donors, from the beaches of Boca to the canyons of Wall Street.
In the growing scandal over the Romney videotapes, I'm waiting for the other shoe -- a Chinese-manufactured shoe, if you will -- to drop.
Let me explain, and indulge me in the background if you will. There's also another purported video of Romney speaking to campaign donors posted by the same YouTube user -- "Anne Onymouse" -- who has been identified as a source of the now-verified "47 percent" video. This video -- like the Boca video -- has been circulating for at least several weeks. In it, the speaker identified as Romney speaks of traveling to China to buy a factory that makes small appliances -- a brutal plant ringed by barbed wire and a guard tower (to keep people out, not in, the speaker explains) where as many as a dozen young girls are squeezed into a single dorm room.
Bain Capital did invest in a small-appliance factory in Dongguan, China, in 1998, when Romney was still the firm's CEO. When asked about the video, top Romney campaign official Ed Gillespie didn't attack its veracity but told reporters to talk to Bain; CNN's Jim Acosta tweeted today that unnamed Bain sources told him the factory in the videotape was not purchased -- which certainly sounds like a backhanded confirmation of the tape's veracity. Stay tuned.
Despite some confusion over the videotape, we already know from reporting by David Corn of Mother Jones -- the same journalist who confirmed the "47 percent" tape -- that the Romney-led Bain Capital did invest in the Dongguan factory then known as Global Tech. And it happened at the same time that the U.S. companies that "offshored" the manufacturing of toasters and the like to Global Tech -- including Sunbeam, which was run in that era by the notorious "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap, as well as Hamilton Beach, Mr. Coffee, Proctor-Silex, Revlon, and Vidal Sassoon -- were laying off thousands of American workers, many in the swing states like Ohio where Romney now trolls for votes.
This is the offshoring that forced so many American workers into early retirement and off payrolls -- where they became part of that "47 percent" that Romney now rails against. In the video posted by "Anne Onymous," Romney says the moral of his trip to the rugged Chinese factory was that "95 percent of life is settled if you are born in America." But how can that be, when so many American jobs are shipped overseas at the same time that CEO salaries soar and taxes on the wealthy fall?
Romney's hedge-fund host down in Florida, Leder, certainly learned at the feet of the master, literally. Leder has said that he was inspired by Romney's work and visited Bain to learn the business as he was creating his own company, Sun Capital. After doing so, Leder came to epitomize the business practices that even a GOP stlawart like Rick Perry dubbed "vulture capitalism." The New York Times reported earlier this year of the Sixers' co-owner:
To his critics, he represents everything that's wrong with this setup. In recent years, a large number of the companies that Sun Capital has acquired have run into serious trouble, eliminated jobs or both. Since 2008, some 25 of its companies -- roughly one of every five it owns -- have filed for bankruptcy.
Among the losers was Friendly's, the restaurant chain known for its Jim Dandy sundaes and Fribble shakes. (Sun Capital was accused by a federal agency of pushing Friendly's into bankruptcy last year to avoid paying pensions to the chain's employees; Sun disputes that contention.) Another company that sank into bankruptcy was Real Mex, owner of the Chevy's restaurant chain. In that case, Mr. Leder lost money for his investors not once, but twice.
I think everyone in America should meet the kind of person that Mitt Romney and Marc Leder would consider a "victim," Mae Pelissier:
The letter Mae Pelissier received from the Friendly Ice Cream Corp. was dated Jan. 5, but did not arrive in her mailbox until the 13th. It did not contain good news.
It began, "Dear Retiree," and said benefits Pelissier had earned from a 28-year career as a Friendly's restaurant employee were being terminated as of Jan. 9 as a result of the Wilbraham-based company's bankruptcy filing."
Four days before I'd even gotten the letter, all my benefits were already cut off," said Pelissier, 82, who worked at the Friendly's restaurant on King Street in Northampton in two stints, the final one from 1968 to 1988.
Those benefits included a $72 monthly pension, supplemental health coverage and a $6,000 life insurance policy, she said.
Look, nobody likes being described as a "victim," with its implication of helplessness -- especially not the millions of Americans who struggle on a daily basis in such a difficult economy. We labor in a world that was crashed down on us four years ago by Wall Street banditos who not only went unpunished but -- unlike Romney's "dependents" -- got bailed out. But most of us have been there -- even at my own company, I've taken pay cuts, watched good people forced out of a job and our valuable real estate asset peddled off, all by anonymous hedge funders who cut and ran.
The sad truth is, "victim" is perfectly appropriate for those of us who, in the word of Bruce Springsteen, have been held up without a gun. It's hard to know what is more utterly infuriating about Mitt Romney right now. Is it his baffling denial of his role in creating the very state of affairs that he now decries, for cheap political gain? Or is it his insistence on spitting at the people he's already knocked to the ground? This is a question that's been asked before in a different context, but it needs to be asked tonight of Mitt Romney, Marc Leder, and their millionaire pals.
Why do they hate us?