When Newt Gingrich made clear that he was going to respond to getting constantly slagged by Mitt Romney's super PAC-funded attack ads in Iowa, Lord only knows that Gingrich had plenty of options.
He could knock Romney for innumerable flip-flops as he's pandered his way through his political career, telling whatever audience he was standing in front of what he thought they wanted to hear. He could tar Romney as the man who provided the vital DNA for the Affordable Care Act that all GOP candidates are required to abhor and vow to repeal, despite the sunnier disposition toward Romney's health care achievement in 2008. He could fillet Romney for being a conservative apostate -- he didn't merely run in a leftward direction in order to win the Massachusetts statehouse, he assured voters that he would be a moderating influence on the Republican Party, dragging the platform in a more liberal direction.
Indeed, at various times, Gingrich has fired shots at Romney, mining these areas and others in an attempt to tear him down. But what no one could have possibly expected -- and, judging from the reactions of conservatives, which I would describe as "mortal terror" -- what no one on the right could have possibly wanted, was for Gingrich to launch an all-out assault on Romney's Bain Capital roots, and eviscerate the candidate for being a predatory capitalist.
But that is exactly what Gingrich has done, and done with astounding thoroughness, by acquiring the rights to a 28-minute attack documentary that's come to be known as "King Of Bain." Made "by former Romney supporters," the result is a potent polemic -- combining Ken Burns' style, the darkness of the "Daisy" ad, and a bottomless reservoir of immutable rage -- that paints Romney as a dark-hearted, vicious-minded, boodle-craving technocrat-privateer. It very trenchantly depicts the lives of ordinary people faced with declining job prospects and mounting expenses. It decries the indifference of Romney's brand of capitalism, and puts a human face on income inequality. If you wanted to mount an argument against corporate personhood on the grounds that a corporation cannot have a moral compass, this will do the trick. In fact, if you screened this before an Occupy encampment, it would almost certainly draw a thunderous ovation.
And if you are a GOP strategist, hoping to reclaim the White House in 2012, that's the problem. Rather than assail Romney in the ways you would expect a conservative to do so during a presidential primary, Gingrich has jumped ahead of the process and grabbed the very argument that Democrats would have happily made to swing voters, and aimed it right at the GOP base. If we assume that Romney is the eventual nominee, then Gingrich and his super PAC, Winning Our Future, have saved the DNC and the Obama campaign a whole lot of time and money. And the attack has now forced Republicans to stand in defense of a specific form of predatory capitalism. Mind you, they're all for that particular form of predatory capitalism! But they don't enjoy having being made to defend it publicly, in an election year.
Let me briefly describe this video addendum to the Marx-Engels Reader that Newt Gingrich has made, for America.
Lights up on a shot of sky, clouds billowing, piano tinkling wistfully. The camera switches to generic depictions of industry and thrift as a voice-over narrator assures us that "Capitalism made America great" and has been a part of "American dreams." Yes, for as long as we can remember, there has been stock footage attesting to this, and a lot of it is in this movie. But in the wrong person's hands, we are told, "some of those dreams can turn into nightmares." Sudden percussion sound and a dark filter? Yep. Sudden percussion sound and a dark filter.
Clouds blacken, as the narrator calls out Wall Street raiders, enriching themselves at the expense of American workers. Those seamy Wall Streeters, we are told, were known for their greed -- "greed that's only matched by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits." Great line, by the way. "Vincent Van Gogh's painting talent was matched only by his ability to make beautiful paintings." "Scarlet's reddish hue was matched only by its crimson tint." The comparisons to the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street, right out of the gates, is apt, save for the commercial's ineptness.
Soon enough, we're introduced to the villain of this epic -- Mitt Romney, head of Bain Capital. His "mission," we are told, is personal enrichment, and we're introduced to random working-class types who attest to the fact that Romney doesn't care about the little guy. "But let's look deeper. Let's look deeper at his life," says one.
I predict that we are about to go deeper, and so we shall, taking a look at four instances of lives ruined by Mitt Romney and his insatiable quest to remodel his homes.
"For tens of thousands, the suffering began ... when Mitt Romney came to town." And that's the first twist. This movie isn't called "King Of Bain." It's called "When Mitt Romney Came To Town."
We are introduced, briefly, to Mitt Romney, his Harvard education, and his love for "stripping American businesses of assets" and "killing jobs." First stop on the road to ruin: Marianna, Fla. Here we learn about a local manufacturer of laundry equipment that got sold to Bain Capital. From there, everything went to crap -- production sped up, quality went down, pay slashed, stress mounted. In the end, we're told Romney "upended the company" and made big profits while "leaving behind a trail of wreckage."
But then Romney turned his sights on KB Toys and destroyed it in similar fashion. This ruined the lives of children. We know this because we see a child, staring into a television flicker, as the sounds of news reports of KB's demise fill the background. The look on the child's face says it all: "Oh no. The KB Toys chain is gone, and it was a brand with which I really identified." We learn that Bain reaped a 900 percent return on investment as 15,000 jobs were lost, which the Boston Herald says was "disgusting."
"Romney called it creative destruction," the narrator tells us. OK, but really, it was economist Joseph Schumpeter who called it that, but anyway! The ad develops the theme from there, defining "The Bain way" as profiting from the misfortunes of others.
We move on to DDi, a technology company that Bain was involved in, courtesy of disgraced Lehman Brothers. Bain, we are told, quickly fired workers, and just as quickly reaped the reward of an increased share value. But Bain dumped the shares, reaping profit, before the stock crashed, and DDI filed for bankruptcy. "Average investors without insider connections were left with huge losses," we are told, in a way that makes it sound like insider trading is some sort of virtuous pursuit.
The sticking point here is that Romney denied having anything to do with this particular pump-and-dump scheme, because he was off saving the Winter Olympics, but documentation proved this wasn't the case.
Finally, we go to Marion, Ind., "which used to be such a booming town ... but overnight it changed." We're guessing Bain was involved? Yes -- there was a paper company that ended up "on Bain's radar." The same story plays out -- workers cashiered, pay cut, quality diminished, wealth extracted, and lives ruined, as Bain pushed down on the throttle.
"Every night I listen to the news and I get very upset," says one Marionite. "Some nights it doesn't pay me to listen to it ... especially when a certain candidate for president, that ticks my ticker [appears]." (SPOILER ALERT: She is referring to Mitt Romney.)
The snows of uncertainty fall, as people drive off, into the distance, leaving their lives behind, borne back ceaselessly into the past, etc. Metaphorically speaking. Also, this ruined Christmas for some. "To Romney and Bain Capital, it was just another deal ... for others, it was a pit of despair."
One elderly woman sets up the final turn of the plot: "He's a money man, and he's going to look out for the money people. He didn't look out for us little peons ... so you put him over everything, then what? What's going to happen then?"
Well, the violins quicken to a frenzy and the voice-over testimonials grow to a desperate tone, and we're given a chance to imagine what a Romney White House would look like -- broken windows, lonely windmills, derelict buildings, a lone piggy bank falls and shatters. A crowd chants "Wall Street greed." The phrase "the almighty dollar" is spoken aloud with a disparaging snort. And not for the first time, you think, "Wait. This is being disseminated by a Republican?"
But it is, and it is unsparing in its criticism of Mitt Romney. In the world of this movie, Romney doesn't merely make money, he goes on a "cash rampage." He doesn't have colleagues, he has "hatchet men." And somewhere in the shadows of Bain, "wealthy Latin American investors" lurk, being vaguely "other."
And there is not a trace of American exceptionalism to be found in the video, because its makers have spared no effort to make Romney out to be a hyper-effete, itchy-palmed liege-lord, swelling above the peons with perfect hair and expensive suits. Romney speaks French. He has many homes. He's always at his happiest the moment one of Bain's downtrodden victims spills their sad story. (My bad, on second look, it looks as if he's getting wanded by security.) But Gingrich's pet filmmakers got that picture, and used it.
And they make great use of Romney's recent flubs on the stump. That time he calls himself an unemployed person? It's in there. His insistence that he knows how an economy works? You'll see it. But the clip that gets the biggest workout is the one where Romney attests that "corporations are people" because all the money a corporation makes goes to people. Again and again, the film deploys the end of that exchange, where Romney, over the objections and jeers of a critical crowd, sarcastically yells, "Where do you think goes? Whose pockets?"
On the off chance you're resistant to a filmmaker that beats you over the head, repeatedly, with an anvil, the answer they're reaching for is "Romney's pockets."
Again, wow: this is being distributed by a Republican, not a Democrat. Purchased by a Gingrich super PAC, not MoveOn.org. And it's not been slapped together -- real care and real research went into this. But while plenty of GOP establishment types have a range of negative feelings about Romney -- from distrust to derision -- it's perfectly understandable that they'd blanch at the sight of this video, and then become aghast at the way the Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman have followed Gingrich into this strange new encampment.
Rick Santorum, by the way, has stayed out of this fray. And Ron Paul has risen to Mitt's defense. And that tells you all you need to know about what motivates this argument in the first place -- it's the last resort of desperate candidates, who -- led by Gingrich -- have opted to set fire to the common rules of Republican Party politesse and a substantial portion of its codified economic worldview in an effort to prevent Romney from running away with the nomination. The only thing that separates Newt -- the man who's essentially responsible for this thing being out in the world -- and the candidates who have leapt onto this anti-capitalist bandwagon, is Gingrich's extraordinarily boundless need for vindication. This is the product of a man who now wants to destroy Mitt Romney so badly that he's willing to risk his own excommunication. (But he's now beginning to realize he may have made a mistake.)
[Note: To avoid any confusion, I'll point out explicitly that the summary of the mini-doc presented above is nothing more than a spot recap of the crazy montage of words and images that appear on the screen when you watch it. All claims made by the filmmakers should be treated as exactly that -- claims. Claims which do not exactly stand up to scrutiny.]
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