It's been a Republican mantra that Barack Obama is trying to turn the United States into a European-style social democracy. It's a complaint that I think has merit, as I explained in a post arguing that while Obama obviously is not a socialist he is a social democrat.
It's a case that's going to be much harder to make in the Fall, however, when GOP presidential candidates are falling all over themselves to sound like social democrats in their bid to stop Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney worked at Bain Capital, a private equity firm. Here's what real European social democrats think about that sort of thing:
The Chairman of Germany’s Social Democrat Party, Franz Müntefering, famously denigrated private equity firms as “locusts” who stripped bare their portfolio companies’ assets in order to gorge on large profits. Back in 2005, The Independent reported that the Social Democrats accused private equity firms of being a threat to German democracy because leveraged takeovers often resulted in significant personnel reductions. As an example, the Social Democrats cited KKR’s buyout of German telecommunications company Telenovis, in which half of the company’s 8,000 employees were made redundant, even though a 12.5% wage reduction had been agreed to by workers. But no one is viewed as a greater threat to private equity in Europe than Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, President of the Party of European Socialists and former Danish Prime Minister. In a scathing 2008 article, “Taming the Private Equity Locusts,” Rasmussen described a leveraged buyout as a transaction in which a “once profitable and healthy company is milked for short-term profits, benefiting neither workers nor the real economy.”
Contrast that to Newt Gingrich who says that as a private equity investor, Romney would "take financial advantage, loot companies, leave behind broken families, broken towns, people on unemployment." Likewise, Gingrich claims that there were cases involving Bain that "look like rich guys looting companies, taking all the cash and leaving behind all the unemployed." Despite Newt's fig leaf claim to love capitalism, there's not much daylight between Gingrich and Rasmussen when it comes to private equity, is there?
Likewise, consider Rick Perry, who compares Romney to a "vulture." Not much daylight between that characterization and Müntefering's claim that private equity investors are "locusts."
And then there's Jon Huntsman, who took Mitt's line about firing people completely out of context.
"It’s become abundantly clear over the last couple of days what differentiates Gov. Romney and me," he said, according to the New York Times. "I will always put my country first. It seems that Gov. Romney believes in putting politics first. Gov. Romney enjoys firing people; I enjoy creating jobs. It may be that he’s slightly out of touch with the economic reality playing out in America right now, and that’s a dangerous place to be."
We wondered whether Huntsman was accurately portraying Romney’s remark.
Once you look at the full context of Romney’s quote, it becomes clear that he was talking about the ability to get rid of a health insurance provider if its services are inadequate.
"I want individuals to have their own insurance," Romney said. "That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you 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. You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me."
So Romney wasn't referring to his work at Bain Capital -- or being a boss who relishes firing employees -- but rather the notion of switching service providers. He might as well have been talking about switching cell phone carriers or cable TV companies.
I'm still not going to vote for Romney. But I'm also not going to vote for Republicans who decide to sound like social democrats for short-term political gain.