Cory Booker’s Kinsley Gaffe And The Relevance Of The Bain Attacks

Yesterday, Cory Booker committed the rookie mistake of saying what was on his mind.

Michael Kinsley once famously said that, in politics, a “gaffe” occurs when “when a politician tells the truth — or more precisely, when he or she accidentally reveals something truthful about what is going on in his or her head.” Yesterday on Meet The Press, Newark Mayor Cory Booker got his first lesson in the national political implications of a Kinsley Gaffe when he answered a question about the Obama campaign’s attack on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital:

 Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, a prominent Democrat enlisted as a surrogate for President Obama‘s campaign, sharply criticized the campaign on Sunday for attacking Mitt Romney‘s work in the private equity firm Bain Capital.

Mr. Booker, speaking on the NBC program “Meet the Press,” made his comments in response to a new television advertisement that the president’s campaign unveiled last week portraying Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, as someone who eliminated jobs for the sake of profits during his years running Bain Capital.

“I have to just say from a very personal level I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity,” Mr. Booker said. “To me it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with.”

“The last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides,” he continued. “It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.”

In mentioning Mr. Wright, Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Booker seemed to be referring to a report last week in The New York Times that Joe Ricketts, a billionaire who founded the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade, was considering a plan to finance a $10 million advertising campaign tying Mr. Obama to the controversial and racially tinged comments of Mr. Wright.

After Mr. Ricketts’ plan was disclosed, it drew sharp criticism not just from Democrats and the Obama campaign but also from Mr. Romney.

“This stuff has got to stop, because what it does is it undermines, to me, what this country should be focused on,” Mr. Booker said on “Meet the Press.” “It’s a distraction from the real issues. It’s either going to be a small campaign about this crap or it’s going to be a big campaign, in my opinion, about the issues that the American public cares about.”

Not surprisingly, Booker’s comments set off an immediate firestorm among pundits and election watchers, much like Vice-President Biden’s comments about same-sex marriage did two weeks ago on the same program, largely because it seemed as if a Democratic politician who has attained something of a national following was directly criticizing the President’s campaign. Booker’s Twitter account, which has over a million followers, soon became the target of negative comments from many on the left. At least initially, Booker continued to defend his position, arguing that he was making a broader point about the “politics of personal destruction.” Republicans, meanwhile, took Booker’s comments and ran with them as you might expect them to, which is why it was no surprise that, only a few hours after he appearance on national television, Booker attempted to walk his comments back:

Newark mayor and rising Democratic star Cory Booker is walking back some critical comments he made about President Obama’s campaign.

Booker, in a YouTube video released Sunday, said he was talking about the rhetoric on both sides of the aisle that appealed to the “lowest common denominator.”

“I used the word ‘nauseating’ on Meet the Press because that’s really how I feel when I see people in my city struggling with real issues and still feeling the challenges of this economy,” Booker said. “I get very upset when I see such a level of dialogue.”

In his Sunday evening video, Booker reversed himself, saying that Romney’s Bain years were fair game because Romney himself has raised the issue of his business record.

“Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign — he’s talked about himself as a job creator” Booker said. “Therefore, it is reasonable — in fact, I encourage it — for the Obama campaign to examine that record and discuss it.”

Joe Scarborough and several of the other commentators on Morning Joe this morning, mostly jokingly, referred to Booker’s Sunday evening video as a “hostage video,” and it’s rather obvious from watching it that the whole production was put together rather hastily, most likely after a very long talk between Booker and more than one prominent national Democrat telling him that he needed to walk back his comments, especially because he seemed to equate ads about Jeremiah Wright with ads about Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital. At least one prominent Democrat, though, said this morning that Booker was right the first time and shouldn’t have walked his comments back:

Former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. said Monday that he would not have walked back New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker’s surprising comments criticizing the Obama campaign for attacking private equity.

“I would not have backed off the comments if I were Mayor Booker,” Ford, a Democrat, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “The substance of his comments on ‘Meet the Press,’ I agree with the core of it. I would not have backed them out… private equity’s not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, private equity is a good thing in many, many instances.”

I tend to agree with the comment that Booker made in his Sunday afternoon video, which is similar to what James Joyner said when he wrote about the Obama campaign’s Bain-focused ad buy last week. Mitt Romney has made his business record at Bain relevant to the campaign largely because he has pointed to it as his success at creating jobs. so that makes the impact of what he did at Bain with regards to jobs relevant. Now it’s true, of course, that the manner in which the Obama camp is focusing on single anecdotal reports about individual business deals, some of which Bain remained involved in long after Romney had left, isn’t really a fair and accurate way to examine Romney’s business record. However, this is politics, and fair is a somewhat of a relative concept.

In some sense, Romney set himself up for these attacks by arguing that his time at Bain was evidence of his ability to create jobs, and that this experience at “creating jobs” was somehow relevant to what kind of President he would be. Quite honestly, I think that was a mistake for several reasons. First of all, Romney and his partners did not create Bain Capital to create jobs, they did so for the purpose of Romney, the partners, and their investors, making money. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of Bain’s investors both during Romney’s tenure and afterwards, were pension funds operated by private and public employee unions, universities, and charities, but that still doesn’t obviate the fact that the purpose of Bain Capital, as with any other business, is to make money. The way Bain did this was to invest in other companies, both new businesses and ones that were struggling such as the steel mill in Indiana that was the subject of one of the Obama ads. Many of these ventures succeeded, many of them failed, but that is the nature of all investment. In most cases, if it hadn’t been for Bain or companies like it, there recipients of those investments either never would have existed at all, or would have gone out of business in the blink of an eye. Quite honestly, the fact that Bain was able to keep a domestic steel mill in operation at all was something of a miracle considering how the industry as a whole was suffering at the time.  For this reason, the attack on the entire idea of private equity investment that the Obama ad campaign represents is troublesome to say the least.

It’s easy to understand why Democratic politicians like Booker and Ford would be uneasy about the attacks on private equity. In Ford’s case, much of his post-Congressional career has been in the business world. In Booker’s case, he is the Mayor of a city that has begun to prosper again largely because of the ability to attract new business, and Booker’s own ability to persuade several financial firms to more some of their operations from Manhattan to the much less expensive confines of Newark. Additionally, to the extent Booker has a political future in mind, a politician in New Jersey who alienates the investor class is going to find it hard to go much of anywhere. As Jamelle Bouie points out in a piece at Greg Sargent’s Plum Line, that’s also a danger that the Obama campaign faces:

The danger is that the attack could alienate Democrats with a connection to the investor class, who are already uneasy with the administration. This includes politicians such as Cory Booker, who have a direct connection to Wall Street, as well as any other Democrat who relies on the finance industry for campaign contributions. What’s more, the attack on Bain Capital comes close enough to the GOP charge of “class warfare” that it could harm Obama’s standing with the affluent and college-educated voters that were crucial to his 2008 victories in Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado.

Of course, the temptation for politicians to pander to mindless populism and class envy is very strong, so one can assume that we’ll be hearing more, mostly distorted, stories about Bain Capital from now until Election Day.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Economics and Business, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Chad S says:

    Harold Ford isn’t a prominent Dem. He’s a professional centrist now.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    “…Mitt Romney has made his business record at Bain relevant to the campaign largely because he has pointed to it as his success at creating jobs. so that makes the impact of what he did at Bain with regards to jobs relevant…”

    “…Of course, the temptation for politicians to pander to mindless populism and class envy is very strong, so one can assume that we’ll be hearing more, mostly distorted, stories about Bain Capital from now until Election Day…”

    It’s either relevant, or it’s mindless populism and class envy, or suddenly mindless populism and class envy are relevant.
    Maybe you should try making up your mind.

  3. Jeremy R says:

    Romney’s jettisoned his bottom-of-the-nation jobs record as a governor, and instead focused on his Bain record as to why he’d be some sort of uber job creator. Over the course of his political career he’s claimed “thousands” of jobs created at Bain, “ten thousand” and of course most recently “one hundred thousand.” I wouldn’t be surprised if while he was running the company he presided over net job loses, or maybe even a small net positive, but I think what the Democrats need to hammer home is that as a private-equity firm, long term job creation, or even the long term health of many of these companies wasn’t their focus, and that isn’t an indictment of private equity, venture capital, etc… it’s more a critique of the weakness of Romney’s job creation argument.

    Fmr. Bain Executive: Romney Bears Blame For Ampad
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/former-bain-executive-romney-bears-blame-for-ampa

    But according to a 2002 interview with former managing director of Bain Capital Marc Wolpow, Romney was directly responsible for Ampad’s layoffs. Wopow and a fellow Bain partner sat on the board of directors of Ampad, and were responsible with carrying out the Bain business plan that caused the layoffs.
    “My job was to maximize the profits to Bain Capital’s partners from the Ampad transaction,” Wolpow told the Globe in 2002.

    Wolpow said Romney was responsible for the business plan carried out by Bain in Indiana.”Mitt’s employees executed that transaction,” he said. “We carried out the business plan. He was CEO of the firm.”

    ”I reported directly to Mitt Romney … You can’t be CEO of Bain Capital and say, `I really don’t know what my guys were doing.”

    Wolpow said that to maximize profits, Bain “implemented an aggressive plant closing and cost-cutting program.”

  4. WR says:

    “Of course, the temptation for politicians to pander to mindless populism and class envy is very strong, ”

    Brilliant. Doug writes an entire post demonstrating that even Democrats are desperately frightened of making even mild criticisms of the plutocrats who crashed the global economy while still managing to rake in tens of millions of dollars — and all he can do is worry about politicians pandering to populism.

    Because only the rich can be victims. If anyone ever says a mean word about them as they continue to transfer the world’s wealth into their pockets they might not be able to enjoy their victory completely.

  5. Idiot says:

    Weren’t you guys worried last week about what Republicans would say about Christie doing a video with Booker?

  6. Scott says:

    Yes, the goal is to make money. However, the way of making money is problematic. In private equity (as well as the mergers and acquisitions business), the risks are not correlated with the reward or loss. A Bain capital may take a firm private but it doesn’t have to improve its operations so it can be profitable. It can engage in pure financial engineering. It can load it up on debt, make it look all right in the short term, extract large fees, and sell it off making a large amount of capital gain. However, the firm is in a weakened state, more vulnerable to the business cycle. If there firm is successful, private equity wins. If the firm is unsuccessful, private equity wins. I would like to see if there is any businesses where Romney actually went in and actually improved the business operations and not just the financial structure of the privatized firms.

  7. Hey Norm says:

    “…I would like to see if there is any businesses where Romney actually went in and actually improved the business operations…”

    I would like to see if there is any indication that Romney knows anything about economics.
    Considering that his singular case for himself as President is his economic accumen…everytime he talks about the subject he says stupid stuff. His statements about job creation and Un-Employment numbers…the graphic he put out equating a Government budget to a household budget…his stand on the JP Morgan Chase debacle….
    And why isn’t he talking about his time as Governor? What’s he hiding?

  8. rudderpedals says:

    More like “don’t beat up on my neighbors” than a Kinsley gaffe.

  9. walt moffett says:

    Class envy and appeals to the angry populist have made many a political career and win elections. That they are frequentily made by those who seek counsel and funding from the rich and live the same life style is the way it is.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    Obama today:

    “…Cory Booker is an outstanding mayor, but it is important to recognize this issue is not a distraction. This is part of the debate we will be adding in this campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on wall street and main street, have a shot at success…”

    “…Understand that their priority is to maximize profits, that is not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers. The reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience. He is not touting his experience in Massachusetts. He is saying he is a business guy, and this is his business…”

    “…When you are president as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, your job is not simply to maximize profits, your job is to figure out how everybody in the country gets a fair shot…”

    Enough said. Unless you, like Doug, hate Obama and then nothing will be enough.

  11. Chad S says:

    I’d also point out that Harold Ford is a vice chairman at Merrill Lynch.

  12. Jeremy R says:

    Meanwhile, in Iowa:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/post/iowa-gop-takes-shot-at-obama-with-natural-born-citizen-requirement/2012/05/21/gIQAJ6eKgU_blog.html

    This week, it’s the Iowa Republican Party calling into question the president’s citizenship.

    Don Racheter, chairman of the Iowa GOP’s platform committee, said in an interview Monday afternoon with Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson that members of the state party are questioning Obama’s citizenship through a plank in their platform draft.

    “There are many Republicans who feel that Barack Obama is not a ‘natural born citizen’ because his father was not an American when he was born and, therefore, feel that according to the Constitution he’s not qualified to be president, should not have been allowed to be elected by the Electoral College or even nominated by the Democratic Party in 2008, so this is an election year,” Racheter told Henderson. “It’s a shot at him.”

    Section 1.16 of the part of the platform draft related to elections states: “We believe candidates for President of the United States must show proof of being a ‘natural born citizen’ as required by Article II, Section I of the Constitution — beginning with the 2012 election.”

  13. John Cole says:

    Mitt Romney- I’m a job creator and I should be President for my record of creating jobs at Bain.

    Obama 2012 campaign– Ok, then… Let’s look at that record of yours at Bain and all the jobs you “created.”

    Cory Booker, Doug Mataconis, and other useful idiots- NAUSEATING DISTRACTIONS. DIRTY POLITICS. SAME OLD SAME OLD. POLITICS AS USUAL.

    If it weren’t for velcro and flip-flops, I’m convinced every glibertarian would be shoeless.

  14. John Cole says:

    http://thinkprogress.org/election/2012/05/21/488002/bain-financial-industy-gave-over-565000-to-newark-mayor-cory-booker-for-2002-campaign/

    Also, Booker has received a cool half million plus from Bain and company. I pointed that out to Doug on twitter, and this was his pathetic half-witted response:

    “@Johngcole Yes because he doesn’t kiss #Occupy ass, he’s a sellout. How misguided”

    The fail is strong in this padawan. In fairness, it is past 9:30, so he may just be drunk.

  15. jukeboxgrad says:

    The distance from Wall St to Newark is roughly ten miles. Booker is thinking about his future. Booker’s true identity is moderate Republican, like Obama.

    The party that’s mostly owned by Wall St is still a better choice than the party that’s fully owned by Wall St. We have the best government money can buy, and it will be that way until campaigns are funded publicly.

  16. Lit3Bolt says:

    @John Cole:

    You didn’t apologize for Al Sharpton. Mataconis therefore has no reason to address conflicts of interest a single Democratic politician might have and can continue to chant his Libertarian Nicene Creed, “The rich deserve to be rich because they’re rich. The poor are always mindless because they’re poor. It is unwise to alienate the investor class. It is always wise to alienate voters. Only the poor and their panderers can engage in class warfare, never the rich. There is no such thing as punching down. There is no such thing as punching down. There is no such thing as punching down. Both sides do it, Amen.”