01/15/2012 12:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Extremism in Defense of Irony: By Romney's Radical Definition His Own Chief Strategist Is "Anti-Free Enterprise"

Q. "Do you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious, is it about jealousy, or is it about fairness?"

A. "You know, I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare."

Mitt Romney on The Today Show after his New Hampshire primary victory, reacting to criticism of his record as head of the unfortunately named Bain Capitol.

So much for the idea of Mitt Romney as a moderate. A chameleon or flip-flopper on social and environmental issues, sure, which in some circles counts as "moderate." But on economic issues, a radical capitalist employing extreme rhetoric.

Shocked by being under fire from fellow Republicans for his work as a corporate takeover specialist, Romney and his allies have reacted with a semi-controlled hysteria, deeming any criticism of the era's anything-goes financialized capitalism the functional equivalent of socialism.

It's all quite melodramatic, and deeply ironic, in that Romney's own chief strategist and media consultant, Stuart Stevens, produced a brutal TV ad in the 2010 California governor's race attacking Romney's billionaire Bain protege Meg Whitman for her own Wall Street manipulations, complete with circling vultures and the like, as I revealed in my Tuesday piece here on the Huffington Post. More on that in a moment.

In this interview on The Today Show after winning the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, former leveraged buyout artist and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said that any questioning of Wall Street practices and rewards is merely the result of envy.

Amidst all the hyperventilating histrionics, what is happening in the overall, of course, is that Romney and his people are being boxed into the position of asserting that anyone who criticizes the anything goes practices of Wall Street is "anti-free enterprise." That dog won't hunt. In fact, that dog will turn around and bite. Very, very hard.

Just a coincidence, I'm sure, but has anyone else noticed that the villain in this year's upcoming Batman epic, sequel to 2008's mega-hit The Dark Knight, is named "Bane?" Talk about your cultural stereo effect later this year.

Romney is readying a defense of his record at Bain Capital, replete with testimonials from workers at companies he funded or took over extolling his work. (As for the companies and jobs that went south, I predict we will hear ... crickets. From the Romney camp, that is.) I believe we've seen this movie already in California, with similar ads featuring the former employees of Romney protege Meg Whitman when she was blown out by Jerry Brown in a landslide in the 2010 governor's race. At a certain point, someone will point out that Romney and Bain refuse to release any real substantiation of their claims of being job creators, as distinguished from wealth creators.

In his zeal to reclaim the moral high ground from Newt Gingrich's charges, the former Mormon bishop goes so far as to invoke a sort of divine right of financialized capitalism: "I think when you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99% vs. 1%, and those people have been most successful will be in the 1%, you've opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God."

Which is a whole new level of spin beyond Romney's claim of principally being a venture capitalist.

For the six years or so in which he has been running for president of the United States, Romney has been largely allowed by the media and his opponents to position himself as a "venture capitalist." Which sounds very benign, conjuring up as it does visions of what venture capitalists do; i.e., provide seed capital and early capital and guidance for entrepreneurs with promising new products and services.

But, while Romney's Bain Capital did some of that, the reality is that he was more of a leveraged buyout artist, which is a type of corporate takeover specialist. That, let's say, is not nearly so benign. In fact, it is quite messy, and quite lucrative. For the takeover artist, but often not for the takeover target. Which is why Romney likes to talk about "creative destruction."

Romney chief strategist Stuart Stevens produced this hard-hitting 2010 ad hitting Romney's Bain protege Meg Whitman for her "vulture" capitalism and controversial tenure on the board of Wall Street stalwart Goldman Sachs. Whitman is a big Romney fundraiser.

New polls in South Carolina show a tight race between Romney and Newt Gingrich, with Romney getting no bounce from his New Hampshire win.

And the pro-Gingrich super PAC TV ads based on the notorious King of Bain documentary just went up late on Thursday.

The film is very powerful. Is it accurate in all its particulars? I have no idea. Since Bain and Romney refuse to release much relevant material about their private equity business, much less support Romney's claims to have created 100,000 jobs, it's hard to say, though some are going out of their way, it seems to me, to pull at threads in the film to discredit its overall point.

But the dynamic is clear-cut, and those who follow the private equity business tell me that the stories sound familiar.

Much of the organized right-wing commentariat, which has provided an intellectual veneer for the deregulation of Wall Street and the financial sector, is attacking Gingrich and Rick Perry for going after Romney's "vulture capitalism." And Rush Limbaugh, who has been something of a Gingrich admirer, has done a severe 180 on the erstwhile frontrunner.

Keep in mind, however, that Bain Capital owns Clear Channel, the conservative radio conglomerate. And Rush Limbaugh works for Clear Channel. Which means that Limbaugh works for Bain, so it is no surprise that he excoriates critics of Bain.

Senator John McCain, who actually doesn't like Romney, rallied to his side nonetheless as the party establishment tries desperately to contain an attack at its core.

"These attacks on, quote, Bain Capital is really kind of anathema to everything that we believe in," McCain told CBS News.

That would be more convincingly heartfelt had McCain not ripped Romney in 2008 for, er, exactly the sort of thing Gingrich is ripping Romney for right now.

"As head of his investment company he presided over the acquisition of companies that laid off thousands of workers," McCain told the New York Times then.

Here's what all the buzz is about. King of Bain: When Mitt Romney Came To Town, the full 28-minute documentary.

Then, of course, there is Ron Paul, whose reflexive opposition to regulation makes his libertarianism a useful tool for business interests who seek to do whatever they want. He says he sees nothing at all wrong with anything Bain Capital has done. Lenin, who enjoyed having intellectual rationalizers for his various deeds, had a term for folks like Ron Paul: "Useful idiots."

Romney certainly seems very heartfelt in his definition of those who mount any criticism of Wall Street practices and rewards as being anti-free enterprise. That's not a gaffe, that's a belief. (Bringing to mind the old Silicon Valley joke: "It's not a bug, it's a feature!")

But it hasn't stopped him from having the very capable Stuart Stevens -- we both worked on the NBC series Mister Sterling, which was created by West Wing producer-turned-MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell -- as his chief strategist and media consultant even after Stevens eviscerated Meg Whitman's Wall Street ways. Whitman's candidacy for governor was Romney's idea in the first place, as both of them have said. (Romney even spent the night of his birthday with Whitman boosting her candidacy in 2010, as you see in my first-hand report.)

Is this just another example of Romney hypocrisy? Or does he see it as free enterprise in action, that was then/this is now, situational ethics for profit?

However the former leveraged buyout artist-turned politician rationalizes it, if he's thought about it, it is certainly deeply ironic. And a measure of how extreme his rhetoric in defense of his own massive profit has become.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...

William Bradley Huffington Post Archive