On the left, and now apparently in Newt Gingrich’s campaign shop, there’s a persistent suggestion that it could have been entirely otherwise — that the midcentury model could have somehow been sustained, that the private equity “vultures” could have been held at bay, and that what worked for the United States when Europe was in ruins and half the world was Marxist-Leninist could have worked in the age of globalization as well.
This is a fantasy, unfortunately — one that belongs to the world of Hollywood endings, where Gordon Gekko is defeated, Blue Star Airlines stays in business and Bud Fox’s dad gets to retire with a solid pension. Indeed, it’s such a fantasy that even Oliver Stone didn’t quite believe in it: In “Wall Street,” Blue Star was saved from Gekko’s clutches — and presumably, from the real-life fate of an Eastern Airlines or a Pan Am — not by a government subsidy or a benevolent Daddy Warbucks, but by a rival buyout specialist.
Still, just because the private equity revolution was necessary doesn’t mean that it was an unmitigated good. And for Mitt Romney to frame criticisms of Bain as just “the bitter politics of envy,” as he did last week, displays a tone-deafness that could cost him the presidency. No one — and certainly no politician — who has profited so immensely from an age of insecurity should ever appear to be lecturing the people who’ve lost out.
Instead, Romney needs to prove to anxious voters that he and his party have more to offer them than just Bain capitalism alone.