I don't always get to choose the topics about which I write; sometimes, they choose me. And so it is that I find myself, at the end of yet another tumultuous week in presidential politics, needing to step into the fray in a way in which neither the Obama Campaign and its surrogates, nor the Corporate-Owned Media (aka the #COM), have demonstrated the courage to do thus far.
This past Tuesday (August 8, 2012), Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama Super PAC, released an ad entitled "Understands," featuring Joe Soptic, a former employee of the re-named GS Technologies, who lost his job, and his health insurance, when Mitt Romney's private equity firm, Bain Capital, filed for bankruptcy and laid off all the plant's workers. Bain became the majority owner of the former Worldwide Grinding Systems, one of Kansas City's largest employers at the time of the investment, in the fall of 1993. More details about the Bain Capital investment is contained in a January 6, 2012, expose by Reuters.
The young men in business suits, gingerly picking their way among the millwrights, machinists and pipefitters at Kansas City's Worldwide Grinding Systems steel mill. Gaping up at the cranes that swung 10-foot cast iron buckets through the air. Jumping at the thunder from the melt shop's electric-arc furnace as it turned scrap metal into lava.
"They looked like a bunch of high school kids to me. A bunch of Wall Street preppies," says Jim Linson, an electronics repairman who worked at the plant for 40 years. "They came in, they were in awe."
Apparently they liked what they saw. Soon after, in October 1993, Bain Capital, co-founded by Mitt Romney, became majority shareholder in a steel mill that had been operating since 1888.
It was a gamble. The old mill, renamed GS Technologies, needed expensive updating, and demand for its products was susceptible to cycles in the mining industry and commodities markets.
Less than a decade later, the mill was padlocked and some 750 people lost their jobs. Workers were denied the severance pay and health insurance they'd been promised, and their pension benefits were cut by as much as $400 a month.
What's more, a federal government insurance agency had to pony up $44 million to bail out the company's underfunded pension plan. Nevertheless, Bain profited on the deal, receiving $12 million on its $8 million initial investment and at least $4.5 million in consulting fees.
There has been no shortage of outrage and contempt--coming from the Romney Campaign, the candidate himself, a legion of loyal GOP surrogates, and the #COM (aka the MSM or "Main Stream Media")--condemning the Priorities USA "Understands" ad. And perhaps, with the exception of the seemingly wholesale complicity of the #COM in this feigned moral outrage, none of this should come as any surprise, considering we're nearing the height of what's affectionately known among pols and talking heads as "the Silly Season." What is striking, however, is the lengths to which normally reliable liberals and progressives, in addition to the president and senior Obama Campaign staff themselves, have at best distanced themselves from the "Understands" ad, and at worst mildly derided it.
True, there are aspects of Priorities USA's "Understands" ad that undermine its credibility, as detailed in a recent boston.com article on the subject. "Ad by pro-Obama super PAC exaggerates link between Mitt Romney and woman's death from cancer."
However, the fundamental premise of the "Understands" ad is not only valid; it is in many respects emblematic of what the 2012 Presidential Election is all about. And, in this particular, President Obama, the Obama Campaign, the campaign's surrogates, and liberals and progressives everywhere should embrace and defend the ad's message.
The fundamental message of the "Understands " ad is as follows: When Americans lack access to quality healthcare--or any healthcare at all--they become more susceptible to illness, disease and sometimes even death as a consequence. In our current system, where the vast majority of Americans rely upon their employer to provide some form of healthcare insurance as an employee benefit, losing one's job--and consequently, their health insurance--can be devastating. When companies like Bain Capital, who's one and only priority is to earn a profit in addition to assuring the full return of its investment, treat workers like fungible commodities--like just another quotient in the calculus of how to maximize profitability and minimize risk-- its business decisions have real, human consequences.
When prodded about the Priorities USA "Understands" ad, President Obama, his senior campaign staff, and the president's surrogates should have all answered as follows:
We didn't produce that ad but its message is a very important one: Business decisions like the kind routinely made by Bain Capital have consequences for real people. And when real people lose their jobs and their health insurance, sometimes the real consequences they suffer include undiagnosed and/or untreated illnesses and diseases, because they no longer have access to healthcare they cannot afford. Tragically, sometimes the end result of the falling dominoes that are set in motion by a plant layoff is, indeed, the death of the uninsured.
There is a fundamental conversation that we, as Americans, need to have about both the kind of healthcare, and the kind of Capitalism, that our nation deserves to have if we want to honestly crow about our much-touted "American Exceptionalism." Regarding the latter, I have written previously about this subject in my "A Better Form of Capitalism" three-part series.
The Priorities USA "Understands" ad may be the perfect springboard for such a conversation. However, as long as the entirety of the discussion is focused on the feigned moral outrage from the Right, as aided and abetted by the cowering of the Left, this election--the one that is supposed to be about "making clear choices"-- will, in the end, be about the Cult of Personality (or, in the case of one of the candidates, the lack thereof).