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Why Obama's Bain attacks are working against Romney

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
updated 1:25 PM EDT, Fri July 6, 2012
Donna Brazile says swing state voters tend to have a negative view of Mitt Romney's role at Bain.
Donna Brazile says swing state voters tend to have a negative view of Mitt Romney's role at Bain.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama campaign has been running ads vs. Romney for his role at Bain
  • Donna Brazile: Polls show swing-state voters have dim view of Romney's time in business world
  • She says Romney's economic philosophy is working against middle-class Americans
  • Brazile: Our government can't be run like a business; it has broader responsibilities

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- Under the heat of increased media focus and a flurry of ads from the Obama campaign, Republican nominee Mitt Romney's time atop Bain Capital is increasingly viewed negatively by swing state voters.

The best the Romney campaign has been able to offer in response is that President Obama and Democrats are attacking his professional success. But Romney's prosperity wouldn't turn off moderate and independent Americans; we celebrate success in this country.

So it must be something else: It must be that the brighter spotlight on Romney's time at the helm of a firm with a penchant for investing in companies that shipped jobs overseas and that specialized in taking control of and breaking up companies is revealing something fundamental about a man who wants to lead our economy at a fragile, make-or-break moment. (There's a FactCheck piece that rejects the claim in advertising in support of Obama that Romney presided over outsourcing jobs and that he was a corporate "raider." The president's re-election campaign disputes that critique.)

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

The more the American people learn about Romney, the less they are comfortable with an economic philosophy seemingly predicated on dismantling weaker companies for personal benefit.

It goes without saying that Romney has worked hard his whole life, but what is increasingly at the center of this discussion is whether he has empathy for those who have worked equally hard but have been treated badly by luck, the decades-long weakening of middle-class security or other extenuating circumstances. His record at Bain seems to provide no evidence that he does.

A recent poll commissioned by NBC/WSJ found that more Americans see Romney's time at Bain negatively than positively. In battleground states, which have seen the Obama campaign's Bain ads more frequently, voters are nearly twice as likely to view this experience negatively.

This is more than just the predictable effect of a negative ad campaign. Increased media scrutiny is turning up more questions than answers, indicating that Romney and Bain frequently skirted toward legal gray areas.

A recently published expose in Vanity Fair shows that, while at Bain, Romney pressured his employees to use any means necessary to get information on its clients' competitors, such as by pretending to be working on a project for graduate school. The story also found that Romney has as much as $30 million in Bain retirement funds in tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

Even if this alone were not enough to undermine Romney, it is clear that the Bain method has come to inform his broader economic philosophy. He continues to fail to specify whether he favors tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. He strenuously opposed Obama's bailout of the auto industry, arguing instead in The New York Times that we should "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" in a managed way.

It is now very clear that Romney was wrong in that opinion. American auto manufacturers are surging to new profitability, and some experts are beginning to talk about a renaissance in American manufacturing.

The relevant point today is that long-term investments in economic fundamentals like education, innovation and insourcing are exactly what we need our president to encourage over the next four years.

It seems to me that Romney would run the United States like he ran Bain. But despite all the bluster and misdirection from the right, the United States government cannot and should not be run like a business.

The United States has a responsibility to deliver more than profits. It has an obligation to protect its citizens and promote the general welfare. It must think strategically in the long term to guarantee these things, even if the decisions it makes do not offer an immediate return of investment of the size you can stash in an offshore account.

Our government must take collective action when individual action would be insufficient. This is the very heart of our social contract -- and not too long ago, Republicans even believed it, too.

It is now incumbent on the Romney campaign to show that he understands this. If he does not, he will continue to lose swing state voters who do understand that we are not going to continue down the path to recovery by cutting our legs out from under us.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

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