So, Deval Patrick is off to a new job at Bain Capital: venture capitalist with a heart of gold.
How can that be? Bain is bad, at least according to anyone who ever ran for office against its founder, Mitt Romney.
Yet Patrick, a Democrat who served for eight years as Massachusetts’ governor, has been hired to supposedly direct investments in companies that produce profits by doing good.
That’s quite the image reboot for an investment giant traditionally demonized for generating profits, no matter what the human toll. Bain pours capital into promising startups as well as troubled companies it hopes to turn around. Investors get rich, even when companies fail and their employees end up without jobs or health insurance.
That portrayal of its mission was skillfully used against Romney from his first run for office, against Ted Kennedy in 1994. When Romney’s campaign started to gain traction, a group of out-of-state union workers showed up in Massachusetts to tell their sad Bain tale. Once their company was taken over by Bain investors, they were laid off. Romney was cast forevermore as a rich, cold-hearted job destroyer.
The Bain connection did not stop Romney from winning election as governor of Massachusetts in 2002. But in 2012, even his Republican primary opponents used it to club him as a “corporate raider” and “vulture.” The Obama campaign picked up from there, running devastating ads about workers who lost their jobs after Bain took over their companies. One, which saturated TV airwaves in battleground states, featured a worker who recalled how he was asked to build a stage at his paper plant for Bain executives. They subsequently used the stage to announce the plant’s shutdown. “It was like building my own coffin,” the worker said mournfully.
Trying to cut his losses, Romney insisted he left Bain in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics. He struggled to explain why he was still listed in documents up until 2002 as CEO, chairman, and sole stockholder.
Patrick, a close friend and political ally of President Obama, did not join in the Bain-bashing.
“The Bain strategy has been distorted in some of the public discussions,” he said during a 2012 MSNBC interview.
Maybe he was just preserving his post-gubernatorial job options. Then again, Patrick is no stranger to defending corporate principles. Before he ran for public office, he worked as general counsel of Texaco and Coca-Cola. Hope and change were campaign themes; they should never be confused with absolute values. As he returns to life after politics, Patrick, as Bain standard-bearer, is the real thing, just like Coke.
With Patrick’s hiring, is Bain really changing its stripes by starting a new line of do-gooder investments? Was it never as bad as Romney’s political opponents painted it? Or, it could just be that Patrick and Bain came up with a new spin to make both look better than the reality.
Romney tried to use Bain as a symbol of his business acumen, but opponents used it to depict him as nothing more than a heartless plutocrat. On the campaign trail, Vice President Joe Biden said that working in private equity “no more qualifies you to be president than being a plumber.”
Romney hurt himself with other gaffes, such as saying 47 percent of the electorate would never vote for him because they depend too much on government.
After that remark, Patrick chided Romney for “turning his back on half the country.” Patrick’s own eloquence on behalf of that 47 percent is often noted. After raising his profile as an Obama surrogate, Patrick nurtured the buzz that he might seek national office. But in taking the Bain job, he told the Globe he has no plans to return to politics in the near future. He also acknowledged that working in private equity could affect his political fortunes.
He will surely have to prove that a venture capitalist can have a conscience and still turn a profit — and that Bain isn’t as bad as Romney’s foes said. Meanwhile, his new position offers evidence of what really matters in this country.
That would be the pursuit of money.
At Bain, there is no red America. There is no blue America. There is only green America.