The Bain Ads Are About Spending
By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. @ WSJ (May 30, 2012)
Which of course has nothing to do with anything. It certainly has nothing to do with the Bain ads. The ads aren’t meant to engage viewers in a discussion of the limits of the profit motive. The ads are about pure ressentiment.
The word is French and was once adopted by philosophers as diverse as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Weber. It describes a kind of moral scapegoating of others to explain our disappointments and dissatisfactions.
Here’s the real message of the Bain ads. The ads may invoke classic private-equity slurs like looter and stripper, but the real message is that private equity is exactly what it says it is: a bringer of efficiency and rationalization. Mr. Romney, the ads say, wants to take things away from you that he claims no longer are affordable; Mr. Obama, the ads say, will fight whoever tries to take things away. To the less sophisticated voter, the Obama message is a soothing “nothing has to change.” To the more sophisticated, President Obama proposes himself as the defender of every spending interest, never favoring a cut, always pushing for higher taxes.
Look at Europe. Look at California. This strategy can work electorally. As policy, it may be unbelievable, irrational and misleading—like Gov. Jerry Brown clinging to his bullet train. But it makes a kind of political sense.
Mr. Brown’s politics in fact are worth studying. His state is flirting with fiscal collapse. Businesses and workers are fleeing its high taxes. Yet he defends a perfectly senseless plan to build a $68 billion high-speed rail to nowhere. His message to his state’s spending interests: “I’m your guy. No compromise.” As in Greece, where austerity has meant the private sector shrinks but the government doesn’t, so in California, if Mr. Brown has anything to say about it.
…The symbolic victims in Obama’s Bain ads are steelworkers only because a 50-year-old retiree living on a government pension doesn’t make a compelling victim. The villains are rich bankers because the average taxpayer doesn’t make a good villain. The Bain ads are about the spending wars, and those who benefit from government largess and those who foot the bill.