NATO Summit, Domestic Politics Edition: Barack Obama on Cory Booker, Bain Capital, and Mitt Romney

The president fields a question on the Newark mayor and campaign surrogate’s suggestion that attacks on private equity are “nauseating": “when you’re President, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits.”

Barack Obama NATO conference

 

The NATO summit: a time for world leaders to gather and discuss the political balance of the world, the internal and external stability of major nations, the future of defense in the 21st century. The President of the United States, as the host of such a gathering, would be expected to address what the Mayor of Newark said about one of his campaign ads.

OK, not just any Newark mayor: Cory Booker, ”singular glimpse at the future of political life on the social web,” documentary-film starfriend of Conan O’Brien, and self-described Obama surrogate. On Meet the Press yesterday, Booker addressed the Obama campaign’s recent attack on Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s own company:

I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it’s just this – we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know. I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital.

Well, he’s got a point about public money feeding private equity. But Booker had to go and say something quoteable:

[T]his kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity, stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.

“Nauseating” took off. Locked in a McCormick Place/internationalist bubble, I was surprised to hear a question about whether this would cause Obama to “pull back” and what his belief is regarding “private equity’s role is in stemming job losses as they seek a return on investment for their investors.” His answer was typically long–550 words!–and in a long weekend full of extremely careful global hegemonese, woke people up a bit:

I think it’s important to recognize that this issue is not a “distraction.”  This is part of the debate that we’re going to be having in this election campaign…. And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be President is his business expertise.  He is not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts.  He is saying, I’m a business guy and I know how to fix it, and this is his business.  And when you’re President, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits.  Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot…. And so, if your main argument for how to grow the economy is I knew how to make a lot of money for investors, then you’re missing what this job is about.

At the conference, it was a moment of good-old-fashioned opposition amid careful, opaque public statements, and the media reaction suggests this election will continue to revolve around domestic and financial politics.

[NB: the picture above may make it seem like Obama was giving Romney the business. He was actually singling out the White Sox fan who clapped when he mentioned the Sox swept the Cubs over NATO weekend.]

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