Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why Won't Romney Defend Outsourcing?

Under the guise of balance, Fred Hiatt's editorial board has produced an unsigned editorial that basically accuses President Obama of being a meany-pants to Mitt Romney, right down to the cheap tactic I commented on the other day, taking the most extreme comment by a low-level campaign staffer, and pretending that it's representative. Not that we should be surprised, because that tactic was employed by one of Hiatt's own columnists. Hiatt and his board complain,
According to the Obama campaign, Mr. Romney’s claim of non-involvement in the fateful three years can’t be squared with some sworn documents he signed that describe him as Bain’s chief after 1999.
You might think that their next move would be to explain the consistency - to explain why Romney's claim that he departed Bain in 1999 can be squared with the SEC filings he signed stating that he continued to serve as CEO, President and sole shareholder. Alas, no, you instead get the predictable resort to the staffer - a resort to ridicule - followed by huffing that the issue is not "serious" because the matter has not been referred to the Justice Department. I guess that's consistent with Hiatt's apparent view on everything from how the nation ends up at war to torture and indefinite imprisonment to the financial industry debacle - unless somebody goes to jail, it can't possibly be serious.

Hiatt's crew uses the term "squabbling", which isn't at all accurate. A squabble is an argument. There's no argument here. What we are instead seeing is the Obama campaign goading Mitt Romney, and Romney reacting in a manner that serves primarily to draw attention to the fact that he's not being honest. No, I don't mean that Romney's refusal to speak candidly about his exact ties with Bain means that he was in fact actively managing his company, nor that his refusal to disclose his tax returns means that he has engaged in financial misconduct. But it's reasonable to infer that a person who says "I have nothing to hide", who then refuses to document his claims, is in fact hiding something. Hiatt's crew is simply giving him cover.

It is reasonable to note that many of the columnists who work for the Post are right-wing partisans, serving up one hackish attack after another on the President. The fact that Hiatt doesn't mind the fact that the editorial and op/ed pages of his paper, print and electronic, are consistently full of childish attacks on the President from the likes of Jennifer Rubin, William Kristol, David Gerson, Kathleen Parker, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Mark Thiessen, Ed Rogers... well, it's pretty clear that his paper isn't actually concerned about attacks that are hyperbolic, "derivative" or unfair. How many column inches of unsigned editorial space has the editorial board devoted to pushing back against right-wing depictions of the President as a socialist - an accusation presently being pushed by some of its aforementioned columnists? How many inches to pushing back against Romney's absurd accusation that Obama went on an "apology tour"? Would that be... none? How about individually? Any?

One response Hiatt might give is that not enough people buy into those arguments. That despite their being pervasively pushed by the right, notions of Obama as a socialist, Mitt Romney's fabricated "apology tour", birtherism, and the like don't matter because nobody who is informed or knowledgeable will fall for them. Never mind that if the proponents of those attacks agreed they would find some other nonsense to push. But that suggests an editorial board less concerned with truth than with rushing to the defense of a candidate who they see as flailing, and it would seem like a pretty thin rationalization for not taking similarly strong positions against the many false accusations raised against the President. Must a candidate be visibly drowning before he gets this type of lifeline?

The Board then attempts to do what Romney is unwilling to do: it attempts to make a case for the upside of outsourcing and offshoring. First they claim that international outsourcing (offshoring) creates as many jobs as it destroys, omitting the caveats that some of the people displaced by outsourcing will not find work in the same sector (i.e., will need to retrain and will likely never again achieve their former level of income) and that the study begins in 2000 ends in 2007 a very limited window that largely corresponds with the housing bubble and ends before the "great recession". They also argue that as corporations invest in foreign enterprises, they also invest in their domestic operations (albeit at a much lower level).

Are you seeing the problem here? The Post does, offering a small amount of sympathy followed by a large dose of condescension for displaced workers:
Of course, such studies are cold comfort to people who lose jobs, even temporarily. American workers’ anxiety is understandable, and an inclination to seek scapegoats in the executive suite, or overseas, is not surprising.
The condescension continues,
It is unsettling to realize that we are vulnerable to the same vicissitudes of international commerce with which other peoples have been coping for decades.
Is the editorial board seriously suggesting that Romney make that argument? It would be awkward enough for Romney to argue that outsourcing is a necessary evil in the global marketplace, helping to keep companies competitive both domestically and internationally, sometimes discretionary but in today's world often necessary, with the unfortunate effect that some workers will be displaced and blue collar wages will be significantly and permanently reduced. First, the populations of displaced workers who cannot find jobs or whose earning capacity has been permanently reduced are not going to buy into the conceit of "You win some, you lose some" or "It may be that the executives of your company got richer than ever while firing you and shipping your job to Asia, but don't go scapegoating them." Second, displaced workers are not going to respond well to the argument that "People in the developing world have suffered from low wages and job insecurity for many years, and they cope - why can't you?"

The editorial board lectures,
The president knows that the globalization of markets, including the market for labor, is irreversible, which is why he hasn’t proposed policies even remotely commensurate with his campaign’s alarmism. Rather, he’s for boosting education and infrastructure and tweaking the taxation of multinational firms’ foreign profits. If anyone has sounded protectionist, it’s Mr. Romney, who has promised to risk a trade conflict with China by labeling that country a currency manipulator.
What alarmism? His campaign has challenged Romney to explain how his record at Bain qualifies him to be President, and Romney has not been able to do so. His campaign challenged Romney to explain Bain's role in outsourcing jobs, and rather than explaining the economics of outsourcing or how it helped Bain's investments he's been whining, "That wasn't me, that was some other guy." That's pretty much it.

Meanwhile, no, Romney is not about to start a trade war with China. Even if they're unaware of the underlying facts, or don't care to point them out to Romney, I doubt that there's a person on the editorial board who doesn't recognize Romney's demagoguery for what it is.

You know what Romney could do? He could say, "You know what? The President and I are in agreement on outsourcing. We both know that it's a reality, there are sound economic reasons for outsourcing, and that it brings some genuine good to our society along with the bad. The President and I agree that we should help workers who are displaced by outsourcing and try to find ways to rebuild and maintain a strong middle class." But... he won't.

At the end, I'm reminded of my reaction to Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson - that the board is feigning disdain at a "squabble", oblivious to the fact that their part of the problem. But who knows - perhaps they're reveling in that fact. As their roster of right-wing columnists attests, they're not concerned with fairness and objectivity, and are happy to publish below-the-belt attacks. After all, if it sells papers, columns and page views, they make money.
In an ideal world, the president and his challenger would acknowledge that “creative destruction” is part of what helps an economy grow, while discussing the most cost-effective means of limiting and healing workers’ short-run pain. Alas, we don’t live in that world.
"Alas," says the paper that's part of the problem.

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