Another recent leaked video, mentioned in a Boston Globe story from Saturday, shows former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney regaling donors to his presidential campaign with a story of a trip to China when he ran the private equity firm Bain Capital. He describes appalling, crowded working conditions in a factory owned by a company Bain invested in where young women worked long hours for a “pittance.” He tells this story to prove his point that for Americans, “95 percent of life is set up for you if you’re born in this country.”
Let’s dissect the various hypocrisies at work in this snippet. First of all, Gov. Romney has falsely yet repeatedly criticized President Barack Obama for not standing up for American values. And yet, when it came time for Gov. Romney’s own company to invest in a factory committing labor abuses, he did. According to The New York Times, he is also still invested, through a blind trust, in a Chinese company called Uniview that makes surveillance equipment for the Chinese government—the kind of equipment it installs to monitor Tibetan monks and political dissidents.
Next, Gov. Romney’s whole campaign is centered on the idea that our federal government is expensive and useless. But working conditions in the United States were also appalling at the turn of the 20th century. Big business protested reforms, and it was government programs and laws, spurred on by the labor movement, that banned child labor and dangerous working conditions. In a candid moment, Gov. Romney shows appreciation for sensible government regulation.
Yet he also disingenuously criticizes the president for not appreciating the hard work that goes into starting a business. He has taken out of context a sentence from a recent speech in which President Obama was making the point that government creates the conditions for private enterprise to thrive—such as roads and educated workers. But isn’t saying that 95 percent of life is set up for Americans going a little too far in the other direction?
Gov. Romney’s point is clear—America is great, and we should appreciate what we have. No argument there. But the comment also reinforces the impression that he is out of touch with average Americans. He may have started his life out “95 percent set up,” but most Americans today have to struggle to stay afloat, let alone advance.
In a new ad, Gov. Romney also criticizes President Obama’s record on China. He complains about jobs going to China when, at Bain Capital, he invested in companies that did just that, according to The Boston Globe. He now blasts the president on trade despite the fact that in his book No Apology, he actually does the opposite and criticizes President Obama for being too tough on China. In the book, Gov. Romney wrote that “President Obama’s action to defend American tire companies from foreign competition may make good politics by repaying unions for their support of his campaign, but it is decidedly bad for the nation and our workers.”
In fact, President Obama has leveled more major trade actions against China than any president in history, and he has done so without wrecking our relationship with the world’s second-largest economy. That is the sort of subtle and smart diplomatic work Gov. Romney has not shown the capacity to accomplish.
Nina Hachigian is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund
See also: U.S.-China Relations in an Election Year by Nina Hachigian