President Obama Monday vigorously defended his reelection campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record, saying the principles of private equity do not apply to the presidency.
“If your main argument for how to grow the economy is, ‘I knew how to make a lot of money for investors,’ then you’re missing what this job is about,’’ Obama said. “My job is to take into account everybody, not just some.’’
In a challenge to the Romney campaign, Obama pointedly said this issue would be a focal point of his effort to win reelection.
“This is not a distraction,’’ he said. “This is what this campaign is going to be about: What is a strategy for us to move this country forward in a way where everybody can succeed?’’
The president was speaking at a press conference in Chicago at the conclusion of a NATO summit. His prepared remarks focused on foreign relations, but he took a lengthy detour to answer a reporter’s question about business-themed attacks on Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee.
The Obama campaign, Democratic surrogates, and independent groups have portrayed Romney, who ran the Boston-based private equity firm Bain Capital from 1984 to 1999, as a corporate raider who profited as hundreds of workers lost their jobs.
Such a strategy has been a staple for political opponents of Romney, from the time he challenged Senator Edward Kennedy in 1994, to his successful gubernatorial race against Shannon O’Brien in 2002, to recent primary bouts against Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
For the Obama campaign, Romney’s record at Bain has been the focus of attacks since the former Massachusetts governor became the presumptive nominee. But the strategy has drawn criticism, even within the president’s own party.
Last week, a former Obama economic adviser, Steven Rattner, called a Bain-themed TV ad “unfair.’’ On Sunday, the Democratic mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, said he was “uncomfortable’’ with the line of attack because “if you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses - to grow businesses.’’
A day later, Obama called Booker “an outstanding mayor’’ and said private equity is a “healthy part of the free market.’’ Then the president delivered his rebuttal.
“Understand that their priority is to maximize profits, and that’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers,’’ Obama said. “And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience. He’s not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts.’’
In some ways, the president’s approach differed from that of the negative ad campaign he defended. Recent ads rely heavily on emotional appeals, relating the stories of workers who lost benefits and jobs after Bain bought their companies.
On Monday, the president made a logical appeal instead: “When you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.’’
Romney responded with a statement saying Obama’s comments showed “he will continue his attacks on the free enterprise system, which Mayor Booker and other leading Democrats have spoken out against. What this election is about is the 23 million Americans who are still struggling to find work and the millions who have lost their homes and have fallen into poverty.’’Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.