Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker committed a mortal political sin Sunday. He dared to tell the truth when that truth didn’t reflect well on his own political party. Predictably, the party establishment was not pleased.
In case you don’t know what the story was about, it’s really fairly simple, but you’ll need a bit of background. There are investment companies called private equity firms which raise money from investors and then spend the money to either invest in early-stage private companies or else find struggling firms to turn around. They place big bets on companies they believe have potential, some new firms and some old firms. When they buy or invest in older companies, though, they’re generally struggling companies that would otherwise go out of business, so their job as investors is to provide investment money and insist that management (usually new management) restructure the business to return to profitability.
It’s not especially complicated and it’s fairly mundane in the business world. Many startups couldn’t happen without investment from this kind of company, and many poorly managed failing businesses would simply go out of business if this kind of company weren’t there to invest and restructure. Normally, nobody talks about these companies other than people in the business world. It’s different this year, though, because Mitt Romney was a long-time partner in a major private equity firm called Bain Capital — and Democrats have decided to make that a campaign issue.
When an investment firm tries to save a failing company, the company always has to be restructured, which pretty much always means getting rid of employees. Sometimes it’s because the company just has too many workers for what it’s doing. Other times, money-losing parts of a company are shut down in order to save the profitable parts.
Incredibly, the Obama campaign and other Democrats have decided to make this an issue. They’re finding examples of companies where workers lost jobs after Bain invested, so they’re blaming Romney and private equity firms for these job losses. I don’t think much of Romney, but basic intellectual honesty requires someone to say, “Hey, you people are guilty of demagoguery for political purposes.”
In a nice way, that’s what Cory Booker said when he appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. (See video clip below.) When asked about the issue, here’s what he said:
As far as that stuff, I have to say from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. It’s—to me, we’re just getting to a ridiculous point in America. Especially, I know, I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses; this to me, I’m very uncomfortable.
Booker simply said something that is very obvious to any thinking person who’s not simply reading the script given to him by the Obama campaign. Predictably, though, Obama supporters and progressive left bloggers have gone ballistic, accusing Booker of being a pawn of private equity — and worse. (Check out some of the tweets attacking Booker.) Booker has been forced to “clarify” his remarks, and his fellow Democrats have been scrambling to figure out how to deal with a man who told the truth.
For their part, Republicans have been just as partisan and stupid. Instead of trying to make the intellectual case that private equity firms are a key part of the free market, they tried to make political hay of it. GOP operatives are gleeful to see Democrats attacking each other. They even launched a petition (for Romney supporters to sign) saying, “I stand with Cory Booker.” Booker was infuriated by this reaction, because he supports Barack Obama and is angry to see his honesty used in such a partisan way against the candidate he supports.
A normal, sane person could be forgiven for thinking that people on both sides of this issue are crazy. It’s clear that both sides are simply interested in winning — scoring points against the other. Honesty and intellectual integrity mean nothing to either side.
Let me be clear. If the party labels were reversed, the same thing would be happening in reverse. Republicans would be savaging one of their own who dared to speak the truth that was off the accepted party script. Democrats would be gleeful at the issue. Neither side is better than the other.
Here’s the real lesson that Booker probably learned from this. If you’re going to be involved in the political process, you’re not allowed to tell the truth unless your party or faction approves. Your conscience or sense of honesty are irrelevant. Is it any wonder we get the simple-minded non-choices of the two parties? If anybody tries to deviate from the party line, his future is damaged.
The system is sick. All it cares about is winning. In such as system, honesty and integrity are liabilities.