Twenty years after it was first coined by Clinton democratic strategist James Carville, "the economy, stupid" is making a huge comeback. As much as our attention from the single most important issue of our time gets diverted as we dissect the gaffe du jour, the debate always comes back to the nation's stalled economy, hapless job growth, and rampant over-spending.
And rightly so, since poll after poll after poll shows the so-called pocketbook or wallet issues are always on the top of most people's minds. As much as one might think this would play right into the Mitt Romney's hand, given the Republican contender's vast business-sector achievement and experience, so far it has not.
But that could be about to change, as the financier-turned-governor-turned-presidential candidate takes center stage this week in Tampa at his party's nominating convention. There he can discuss his career and plans in a more measured way, than 30-second attack ads or evening news rebuttals permit.
In fact, Romney's belated business offensive began before the convention, including an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week entitled "What I learned at Bain Capital." It is an attempt to recast his life's work as a problem solver rather than a job exporter, as scores of his opponent's ads have characterized him.As my co-host Jeff Macke and I discuss in the attached video, our personal comfort and familiarity with the workings and practices of the private equity investment universe are clearly not shared by all Americans. Which is fine. But the basic tenets of capitalism and the often-harsh realities of budgeting and finance are, at all levels and all walks of life. For this reason alone, Romney should not only welcome any and all opportunities to talk about what he knows best, but should offer no apologies along the way.
Businesses fail. People get fired. Industries become obsolete. We get it.
But who among us doesn't know somehow whose sweat equity or hard work on their home or business hasn't earned them a nice pile of money?
Yet no one considers this evil or greedy -- they call it smart. The flip side applies too; that sometimes things don't always turn out as well as originally planned.
And so it is in the private equity business, Romney should explain. Identifying properties or businesses or industries that are under-valued for any number of reasons, then putting the required time, smarts and money into them to bring them back to life, is not a crime - it's an art. It is an endeavor that is fraught with risk, and therefore, also filled with potentially large rewards, and Romney needs to acknowledge this.
Were outdated plants or money-losing ventures shut down along the way? You bet. But in total, Romney must make clear, far more people were hired than fired. Millions of dollars in paychecks were created, not cleaved. Sure, the business of doing business is not always pretty, or linear, but if given the facts, I am certain that voters will not only understand, most will also agree.
As Romney's op-ed asserts, his 15 years on the front lines of business and in the boardroom carried many other life-lessons too, such as the need to promptly address problems, the importance of fair trade at home and abroad, the day-to-day necessity of having reliable and affordable energy, and the ruinous burdens of over-regulation that sap enthusiasm, crush motivation and hinder innovation and investment.
Yes, it's Mitt Romney's chance to set the record straight and play offense instead of defense, and no apologies are needed. At least as it pertains to business, his background and Bain.
- Mitt Romney