Battling Over Bain: Jobs, Free Enterprise, and Morality

In New Hampshire and South Carolina, we are now witnessing the economic equivalent of conservatives attacking a pro-life colleague using Planned Parenthood talking points. Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: Acting out of personal frustration and political desperation, three leading conservative politicians are faking outrage about Mitt Romney’s business practices and in so doing are actively selling poisonous moral and economic ideas to the American people.  The language of the Occupy movement is infecting Republican rhetoric.

My concern is not so much for the twists and turns of any given political week but instead the larger, emerging meta-narrative that these Republicans are now feeding.  The Occupy world sees a job as a right, not a privilege.  The Occupy world tells Americans that their hard work is futile, and they can never achieve their dreams so long as the malicious 1% grow wealthier.  The Occupy world sees ordinary Americans as victims.  This is a narrative that is not only false but eats away at the soul of the American people.

Rebutting this narrative may be one of the great moral tasks of our time, and in rebutting that narrative we will not only reverse American decline but we will rescue millions of Americans from lives dominated by purposelessness, defeat, and dependency.

Here is the core truth about jobs, corporations, and personal responsibility:  An employer does not exist to create jobs, rather a job exists to help an employer thrive.  In other words, rational companies hire workers not simply because they can (hey, the money’s there, why not?) but because that worker will materially contribute to the company’s success.  This arrangement provides a profound mutual benefit: the employer gets the fruit of the worker’s effort, and the worker not only gets a salary but also the great benefit of purposeful work.

Struggling companies and unions often lose sight of this social compact.  Unions (and non-union employees) often see the employer as simply a source of jobs, not an enterprise to be sustained and nurtured.  Employers will sometimes grow too attached to their employees and watch the enterprise flounder as too many people — or the wrong people — dominate the payroll.  Employers will also fail by not providing sufficient compensation and treatment for the efforts they demand, leading to high turnover and constant employee discontent.

What do we do when a company struggles?  What should be our priority?  The answer is simple: seek a turnaround.  Is it rational to look at falling sales, rising costs, and aging equipment and say, “No matter what, we will not cut jobs”?  Businesses cannot possibly make such a vow.  Even if it’s a goal, it can’t possibly be a promise.

What did Mitt Romney do?  He invested in startups and struggling companies (the riskiest and most dangerous investments one can make — but also among the most crucial for the health of a free enterprise system) not with the goal of “creating jobs” but with the goal of making money.  In other words, he had the same goal as virtually every rational business owner.  But in the miracle of the free enterprise system, if he succeeded in turning around a failing company or in creating a successful new corporation, people got jobs — real jobs, purposeful jobs.  Staples has gone from one store to more than 2,000 worldwide.  Do you think that created jobs?  Similar stories can be told of other Bain investments, like Domino’s Pizza or Sports Authority.

Of course not all investments worked.  Not all businesses can survive.  Then what do you do?  You take what value you can and then give it another try, with another business at another location.  The value you take becomes part of the investment in the next enterprise.  This process is at the core of the free enterprise system.

To be sure, it is not at all painless.  And in that pain comes political opportunity, as sometimes well-meaning and (more frequently) opportunistic politicians tell suffering people that they are experiencing an injustice, that they are helpless in their plight, and that only the intervention of the government can give them the security they crave.  The South, plagued for generations with poor education, systemic racism, and simmering class resentments, has historically been particularly fertile ground for “people versus powerful” populism, and it’s hardly a coincidence that the attacks on Mitt are reaching a crescendo as we head towards South Carolina.

Ironically, we are now facing a primary campaign that is a virtual dry run for the general election, with the Republican front-runner getting hammered from the left by hysterical populist rhetoric.  Perhaps this fight will serve to toughen Mitt Romney for the general election.

But there could be a more ominous outcome.  Perhaps the attacks will work, and the Republican party will have lost the free enterprise argument by arguing against itself, and we’ll be left with two candidates — one from each party — who seek to attain power by pandering to the feelings dependence, powerlessness, and hopelessness of an increasingly economically ignorant population.

The Case For Mitt Romney

Why Mitt?  I’m asked the question almost every day.  Friends will pull me aside at church, casual acquaintances will stop me at Wal-Mart, and longtime colleagues will call for extended conversations.  They see me as a rare breed:  The “movement” conservative who is unabashedly, enthusiastically for Mitt Romney.

Why?

The answer begins with the time, this moment in American history.  Every few decades, turns in the business cycle, changes in culture, and policy mistakes conspire to make us question ourselves.  Is the American Dream still alive?  Will our children do better than we did?  Is America, after two hundred years of growth and hope, finally in decline?

The Great Recession may be over but what came afterwards — high structural unemployment and massive deficit spending — looks more like France than America.  We’re worried.  And with good reason.

Four years ago, a worried America turned to an untested, brand-new Senator from Illinois, a man who promised not just “hope and change” but that he could even heal our planet.  But we’re wiser now.  We’ve seen that behind the soaring rhetoric was the “Chicago way,” and an approach to fiscal policy that was unconventional only in its recklessness.  A pork-laden stimulus package more costly than the Iraq War?  Check.  A health care plan rammed through with procedural tricks and against the express wishes of a majority of Americans?  Check.  Unthinking class warfare against job creators and job providers?  Check.

We need a turnaround.  And there’s no better-qualified politician in America to execute a turnaround than Mitt Romney.  It’s what he’s done his entire career.

As a much younger man, Mitt Romney was named CEO of the struggling Bain & Company and brought it all the way back from the brink, leaving it financially healthy and prosperous. He helped found Bain Capital and turned it into an economic powerhouse, creating thousands of private-sector jobs and leaving it with $4 billion under management.

After his private sector success, he was called to save the Salt Lake City Olympics – the first post-9/11 games – from corruption and fiscal collapse. He turned an almost $400 million deficit into a $100 million profit - all while maintaining safety and security in tense times. Then, as governor of Massachusetts, he turned a $3 billion budget deficit into a $700 million surplus and left office with a 4.7 percent state unemployment rate.

Imagine for a moment  you’re interviewing a job applicant.  Your company is struggling, and you need somebody who can make you profitable again.  Several of the applicants have impressive-sounding ideas, but only one of the candidates has actually made it happen — has actually executed the turnaround — not once, not twice, but three times, in different places and contexts.  That person gets the job, and it’s not even close.

Yes, I know the presidency is about more than economics.  We also look to our presidents to defend life and to be a force for good in our culture.  And that’s what makes Mitt Romney’s record all the more impressive.  In Massachusetts — one of America’s most liberal states — he won a political leadership award from Massachusetts Citizens for Life after he vetoed expanded access to the so-called “morning after” abortion pill and vetoed a bill permitting embryonic stem cell research.  And in the battle for marriage, Maggie Gallagher, founder of the National Organization for Marriage, writes: “Mitt Romney didn’t just oppose court-ordered same-sex marriage with words, he fought hard, including behind the scenes.”

What does all this mean?  It means that Mitt Romney — an admitted convert on the abortion issue — has a better conservative record than did Ronald Reagan before he became president.

Yes, Mitt Romney is the architect of “Romneycare,” but if you actually look at the history, you’ll see that he did exactly what we’d like to see blue state conservative governors do.  Faced with veto-proof Democratic majorities committed to a punitive and destructive health-care reform, he expressly sought the counsel of leading conservative thinkers to fashion a much better alternative to the Democratic plan and then succeeded in passing it with overwhelming bipartisan support.  No, it’s not perfect (as Mitt freely admits), but Massachusetts citizens have a far better health plan than they’d have if Mitt weren’t governor.

As for Romneycare’s differences with Obamacare, I can summarize them in two sentences:  In Massachusetts, Mitt Romney balanced the budget then reached across the aisle to create a popular health reform program that was specifically designed for the unique needs of his state. Barack Obama, on the other hand, created a huge new entitlement program in an era of record deficits by ramming a possibly unconstitutional, one-size-fits all mandate through a reluctant congress and over the expressed objections of a majority of the American people.

Finally, I support Mitt Romney in part because of his faith. Faithful to his wife and an exemplary father to his sons, there has never been even a hint of scandal around Mitt.  He is a man of integrity because of his faith, not in spite of it, and if he makes it into the oval office I’ll know his values are grounded in something far more profound than political expediency, opinion polls, or purely personal philosophies.

If you wondered why I’ve spent countless hours over the past six years arguing that Mitt Romney should be our next president.  Now you know.  Republicans should not think they’re “settling” for Mitt; instead they’re selecting the right man at exactly the right time.

Let the turnaround begin.

Are Evangelicals Drifting Left?

My ACLJ colleague Jordan Sekulow’s Washington Post piece making the case for Christian support for immigration enforcement reminded me of a disturbing but very real trend in American evangelicalism — a perceptible drift left on economic freedom, immigration, and the environment.  The drift is obvious amongst Christian young people.  In recent years, I’ve spoken to thousands of young evangelicals, and skepticism of free market economics is at an all-time high.  Many have read books by Ron Sider or Shane Claiborne or have seen Jim Wallis in campus debates and defend our nation’s drift towards European economic and social models.  Others uncritically accept environmental alarmism and see the green movement not as a competing religion (which it often is) but instead as a model for so-called environmental stewardship.

My fears were confirmed at a recent conference where analysts were breaking down the voting behavior of counties by religious composition.  Regarding life, the more evangelical a county, the greater its tendency to support the pro-life cause.  The progression was, in fact, dramatic.  Regarding economic freedom, on the other hand, while the more evangelical counties did ultimately tend to support the free market, the difference was well within the margin of error.  In other words, the evangelical community is convinced on life.  Economics?  Not so much.

Why?  Optics matter.  When progressive Christians address evangelicals, they wear their heart for the poor on their sleeve.  They convincingly point out the vast number of scriptures commanding believers to care for the “least of these,” and they’re quite effective at pointing to the BMWs in the parking lot even as they show slides of abject poverty in Africa.  Market defenders speak the rhetoric of prosperity.  Progressives speak the rhetoric of compassion (not to beat a dead horse, but that’s certainly one reason by George Bush coined “compassionate conservativism.”)

Some Christians are starting to push back, and by and large social conservatives are still small-government conservatives, but there are cracks in the foundation.  We simply can’t assume that the new generations of evangelical voters understand the historical power of economic freedom to lift millions (indeed billions) out of poverty.  We can’t assume that Christians exposed to years of environmentalist propaganda can understand the very real economic, theological, and cultural dangers of accepting junk science and elevating creation over Creator.  At the end of the day, there are profound consequences to ceding our educational institutions to the Left and the rhetorical high ground to socialists.

 


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