Return of the King of Bain

Back in January, Newt Gingrich did something so craven and bloodless, it sent shockwaves across the already craven, bloodless world of presidential politics: He cribbed a line of attack from liberal lion Ted Kennedy.

Kennedy had used Romney’s career as a buyout artist to bludgeon Romney during their 1994 Senate race. Being the good capitalists that they are, a team of Republican media operatives watched Romney running around trying to get elected president by talking up his business chops, and they sensed a business opportunity. They bought an old opposition research folder on Romney, and used it to produce, on spec, a feature-length film attacking Romney’s career at Bain Capital. A super PAC allied with Gingrich wound up buying the King of Bain film. Gingrich’s PAC carpet bombed the Romney campaign with ads featuring tearful workers who had lost their jobs and pensions following Bain takeovers. The attack ads, and the film they were culled from, were panned as being manipulative and only half truthful. They were also devastatingly effective, handing Gingrich a big win in the South Carolina primary, and dragging Romney into a protracted and punishing primary season battle.

At the time, Republican operatives on both sides of the Romney attacks expressed hope that, by airing in January attack lines that Democrats would surely employ before November, they could inoculate Romney against vulture capitalist charges. Jason Killian Meath, who directed Gingrich’s King of Bain film, told the New Yorker, “All I did was steal a nuclear weapon from David Axelrod, brought it over to our side, dissected it, and dismantled it.” Meath has subsequently fallen in line behind Romney.

Even though Romney dispatched Gingrich and Rick Santorum, he never effectively deflected Kennedy-style attacks on his Bain career; he won the GOP primaries, in large part, by overwhelming second-class politicians with blitzes of negative advertising. And now, as expected, Axelrod and the Obama campaign have come knocking.

Obama’s camp released a two-minute attack ad yesterday that focuses on GST Steel, a Kansas City manufacturer that Bain acquired in 1993. GST wound up in bankruptcy, wiping out jobs and pensions; the Obama ad asks ex-GST workers about their experience with Romney and Bain. Some are angry, some are near tears, but none have anything good to say. “Bain Capital walked away with a lot of money that they made off of this plant,” one former worker says. “We view Mitt Romney as a job destroyer.” A second claims Romney “destroyed thousands of people’s careers, lifetimes.” Another calls Romney “a vampire.”

In a campaign email announcing the new ad, and the launch of the attack website RomneyEconomics.com, the Obama campaign alleged that, “In a career of buying and selling companies, Romney’s pattern was to reap quick profits for himself and his investors, but often at the expense of workers and communities.” It added, “It’s our job to let people know the truth about Romney’s record, and what it says about the economic vision and values he would bring to the presidency.”

The conservative opinion pages have leapt to Romney’s defense. The National Review says Romney is not the bloodsucking capitalist Team Obama paints him as, but merely a really, really rich guy trying to do good while making a few bucks but not always succeeding because of greedy unions. A Wall Street Journal editorial notes that the Obama campaign launched the attack on private equity’s most famous face on the same day that he president attended a fundraiser hosted by another private equity titan, Tony James of the Blackstone Group.

The Washington Post says the current skirmish over Bain illustrates how the battle to define capitalism will be fought in the general election. New York magazine, which dove deep into Romney’s career at Bain this past fall, has a similar take. The magazine’s profile noted that both sides of the Bain debate are correct — the firm helped unleash a new era of productivity in American business, and the benefits of that new productivity largely flowed into the hands of a few wealthy capitalists. Yesterday, New York’s Jonathan Chait argued that attacks on Bain are really attacks on income inequality. “The Republican position is that the rise in inequality is perfectly fine, as it signals rising rewards accruing to those who have justly earned them,” he writes.

It’s that philosophy — not corporate profits, per se — that the Obama campaign is beginning to hammer away at. “In Romney’s world,” the Obama campaign said yesterday, “CEOs and wealthy investors prosper by any means they can get away with, even when that means companies fail and workers are left behind. Two sets of rules — one for people like him, another for the rest of us.” If Romney can’t muster a better rebuttal than he did in January, November is going to feel like an eternity away. 

                                                                                                                                                            –PAUL MCMORROW

BEACON HILL

Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office now oversees enforcement of the state’s Open Meeting Law, is seeking to define what constitutes a violation by adding “specific intent” and “deliberate ignorance” to the definition.

More legislative meddling in the state court system, as the Globe reports on a move by Chelsea state Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty that House leaders went along with — yet have little to say when asked about its merits.

House leaders unveil an economic stimulus bill.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

To avoid a potential conflict of interest, the Barnstable County District Attorney’s Office will take over the prosecution of a veteran Brockton cop charged with taking money from two people at the police station, including an undercover officer.

City councilors in Gloucester raise concerns about raises of 14 to 29 percent for top aides to Mayor Carolyn Kirk, the Gloucester Times reports.

A Fall River city councilor gave the city’s housing authority a list of alleged worker and worksite violations he has forwarded to state officials before the panel voted in executive session to launch a probe of the procurement of contracts at the authority.

The public does not have the right to comment at municipal board  meetings, according to the state’s open meeting law, Glenn Koocher of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees told an audience at a workshop on public meetings in North Adams.

Boston swaps North End properties with a private vocational school.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

William McGurn, writing in the Wall Street Journal, contrasts California Gov. Jerry Brown and his New Jersey counterpart Chris Christie.

Rhode Island moves to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, while Colorado’s legislature rejects a civil union bill.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed column, Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Kevin Brady sing the virtues of no-income tax states, and put down a marker against a bailout of troubled state pension funds.

ELECTION 2012

The JPMorgan Chase $2 billion trade fiasco has become an issue in the state’s US Senate race, but there is danger for Elizabeth Warren, according to Keller@Large. Warren is leveling criticism at the firm, but the bank’s head is a Democratic supporter who has been praised by President Obama. So far Warren continues to outpace Scott Brown in out-of-state donations.

Meanwhile, Brown’s campaign is doing all it can to keep the focus on questions surrounding Warren’s Native American ancestry.

Lowell Sun columnist Peter Lucas likens Elizabeth Warren to Ted Kennedy in an unflattering way: Kennedy cheated (on a Spanish exam) at Harvard and got fired; Warren cheated (on her minority background) at Harvard and got hired. Jennifer Braceras, a former student of Warren’s and a Herald columnist, discusses the controversy with Jim Braude.

Gov. Deval Patrick is drawing huge crowds as he campaigns for President Obama in the South, NECN reports.

FISHING

A new report from NOAA says some fish stocks are rebounding but New England still has the highest number of overfished species in the country.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee meets with Curt Schilling of 38 Studios amid concerns the company is in financial trouble, the Providence Journal reports.

Auto insurance rates in Massachusetts are climbing faster than inflation — a return to the bad old days that were supposed to be behind us in the new era of “managed competition.”

The Republican hails the state’s effort to keep the Westover Air Reserve Base operating.

EDUCATION

More problems for embattled Roxbury Community College President Terrence Gomes, as the Globe reports that the school is under investigation by federal authorities for suspected lapses in mandated reporting of crime on campus. Through an association, the state’s 15 community colleges hire a lobbyist to fight a proposal giving the state greater control over the campuses, the Herald reports.

HEALTH CARE

An official from the embattled Judge Rotenberg Center responds on Greater Boston to criticism of the facility’s use of shock treatment as an “aversion therapy.”

A new “virtual” colonoscopy which relies on imaging tests — not an invasive scope — may be as effective as the standard procedure in identifying large colon polyps, according to research conducted at Mass. General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and other medical centers.

TRANSPORTATION

Some ferry riders question what the legislative proposal to shift the boat service from the debt-ridden MBTA to cash-flush Massport means for coordinating with T service and passes as well as the future for a planned bus terminal at Hingham Shipyard. The Boston Herald, in an editorial, calls the proposal to shift the cost of the MBTA’s ferry operation to Massport “fiscal lunacy.” Meanwhile, The Berkshire Eagle calls for new revenue proposals to boost the regional transit authorities which usually lose out to the MBTA when it comes to competing for state funding: The paper gave a nod to a MassINC proposal for a vehicle miles tax.

The League of American Bicyclists rates bicycling-friendly communities and Boston receives a silver ranking, placing it in the third tier, Governing reports.

Teen traffic deaths fall to historic lows, with the system of graduated driver’s licensing laws receiving a lot of the credit, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Four South Coast scrap metal recyclers are being sued for allegedly polluting area waterways.

Medfield residents say a state plan to clean up toxic waste on the grounds of a shuttered state hospital doesn’t go far enough.

Rangers at the Lynn Woods warns dog walkers to keep their pets on leashes in wake of coyote attacks, the Lynn Item reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A former associate vice president at Beverly Hospital is sentenced to 18 months in jail for soliciting bribes and kickbacks from hospital contractors and stealing valuable painting, the Salem News reports.

MEDIA

The Boston Globe’s new noon sports show gets a review from the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Paul Steiger is stepping down as editor of ProPublica, the nonprofit news organization.

Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, who allegedly tried to conceal evidence in Britain’s phone hacking scandal, will face charges. If convicted, Brooks could face life imprisonment.