"I like being able to fire people"

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

10 January 2012


Now this is unfair. 

When Mitt Romney told a New Hampshire audience that he likes "being able to fire people," Democrats were quick to circulate the video footage in an attempt to paint the Republican nominee as a cold-hearted market rationalist. The problem is, however, that Romney wasn't talking about his work restructuring companies while at Bain Capital (which did involve some firing). He wasn't announcing he derived a Monty Burns-esque glee from downsizing. He was talking about changing healh insurance providers:

I want people to be able to own insurance if they wish to, and to buy it for themselves and perhaps keep it for the rest of their life and to choose among different policies offered from companies across the nation. I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep people healthy. It also means if you don't like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. 

The irony is that just a month ago, Romney himself was making attacks using quotes taken out of context in his advertisements. At the time I said he was making an "all in the game" defence; if Romney's commercials were unfair, his campaign argued, that was OK, because ads are allowed to be unfair. "It’s ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context," a member of his campaign staff said at the time.

This clip could be highly damaging to Romney, and Democrats will be tempted to use it against him. Considering his previous stance, Romney would find it difficult to protest if they did. But they should not. Politics is grubby enough as it is without deliberate attempts to misinform voters.

Interestingly, it's not just Democrats who are attacking Romney's big business past. As Andrew Sullivan points out, Romney's Republican opponents have begun attacking him from the left: 

That Gingrich and Perry are openly using classic Democratic attack lines against Romney, especially with his record at Bain, is a sign to me that they suspect it could work. And if it can work against Romney in a Republican primary, imagine what could be done in a general election.

[...]

Even the hardest of hardcore Republicans, like Perry, realize that this is now a populist election and their likeliest nominee is a plutocrat who stumbles every time he tried to relate to regular folks, and has a record at Bain that is a populist opponent's dream.

Also check out James Fallows for more on why this could harm Romney, even though it shouldn't:

It's the word fire ... people with any experience on either side of a firing know that, necessary as it might be, it is hard. Or it should be. It's wrenching, it's humiliating, it disrupts families, it creates shame and anger alike — notwithstanding the fact that often it absolutely has to happen. Anyone not troubled by the process — well, there is something wrong with that person.

EDIT: Besides, as Matt Yglesias writes, the problem with Romney's statement is not that it can misconstrued to make him sound nasty, it's that his idea of customer choice in health insurance would not work in reality.

Tags: Bain Capital, Barack Obama, Democrats, Election 2012, I Like Being Able To Fire People, Mitt Romney, Republican Primary 2012

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