Mitt Romney, Bain Capital, and 1999: Should I stay or should I go now?

At first glance, this ongoing saga seems an awful lot like one of those perfectly constructed and completely irrelevant bits of campaign “scoops” that have no effect whatsoever on a candidate’s ability to govern. And from the Obama campaign’s strategic standpoint, that’s basically what it was, and a masterful job at that. But the problem goes beyond the overarching campaign themes — outsourcing of American jobs, profits accruing to the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, etc. — because it now involves directly contradictory statements made by Romney in SEC filings and public comments. It will be interesting to see if this story has staying power or if the press moves on to more exciting things, like what Kim Kardashian is doing with her summer.

In any case, it is a definitive example of the Obama campaign’s strategic mastery. The overall fight over outsourcing is, in many ways, pretty frivolous, since the exchange of labor in the U.S. for cheaper labor abroad is a fairly well-known and — more importantly — unavoidable long-term impact of globalization. But it sure riles up some of Obama’s key constituencies, so there we go. Meanwhile, Romney has a scandal on his hands because he fell for the trap of being too cautious: he didn’t want to appear remotely involved with outsourcing, so he said he wasn’t in charge of Bain Capital after 1999. Maybe he should have just owned it right from the start.

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