(Originally published at Huffington Post/Politics, December 20,2011)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Obama’s chief re-election strategist David Axelrod has spent most of 2011 scripting a frontal attack on Mitt Romney.
Axelrod’s strategy is to distract voters from the President’s performance on the economy and effectively morph Mitt Romney into the job-killing corporate raider, Gordon Gekko, the villain of the 1987 film Wall Street.
If America’s economic malaise persists, Axelrod risks that voters may actually choose a Gordon Gekko to restructure USA, Inc., and to jump start the economy.
Axelrod anticipated that Mitt Romney would be the eventual Republican nominee. That’s why he left the White House in January to focus on former governor. Axelrod needs to deflect criticism of Obama care and Obamanomics, questionable bailouts, government takeovers, crony payoffs, and unemployment. So the focus is Romney.
Axelrod’s opposition research team has built a damaging dossier on Romney. A prime source is the 2009 book by financial reporter Josh Kosman, The Buyout of America: How Private Equity is Destroying Jobs and Killing the American Economy,” and specifically. chapter six on Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, titled “Plunder and Profit.”
Kosman’s book title could be applied to Gordon Gekko’s leveraged buyouts.
In the movie, Gekko says: “I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them!” Compare that to Romney’s response to a tough question from MSNBC’s Brian Williams during the September GOP debate, “when we acquired businesses, in each case we tried to make ’em bigger, make ’em more successful and grow.”
Further, in the movie, Gekko uses a “divide and sell” strategy on Bluestar airlines. He plans to use equity and borrowed funds to acquire Bluestar, then sell off the assets, drive the company into bankruptcy, and in the process, lay off the employees.
Andy Kroll writing in Mother Jones describes a similar Bain Capital tactic in the company’s acquisition of Dade International: “As Bloomberg reported, Bain cut 1,600 jobs from the company between 1996 and 1999 after merging the company with several others as part of Bain’s restructuring plan.”
The Dade International buyout is also a major focus of Kosman’s chapter on Bain Capital. He claims that Bain Capital used the company’s pension fund as security for loans to purchase the company, then converted the funds into cash in order to buy back shares. Similarly, Gekko eyes Bluestar’s pension fund as part of his liquidation plan.
Romney has responded to the charges:
“The idea that somehow you can strip things down and [that] makes them more valuable is not a real effective investment strategy. We tried to make these businesses more successful.”
Romney has already countered by pointing to Bain Capital’s success stories that involve companies familiar to voters — Burger King, Burlington Coat Factory, Domino’s Pizza, The Sports Authority, Toys R Us, AMC Entertainment, Guitar Center, Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), Warner Music Group and The Weather Channel.
Events this year have enhanced the Axelrod strategy, including belligerent speeches by union leaders against the Tea Party movement and the rise of the Occupy movement and the attack on Wall Street and the super rich.
In a strange twist, Gordon Gekko lambastes the one percent in the film:
The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth… One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and, what I do, stock and real estate speculation.
The 2012 presidential campaign will be a $2 billion slugfest. With his strategy of morphing Mitt Romney into Gordon Gekko, David Axelrod hopes to convince voters that President Obama, not a former corporate raider, remains the best hope for workers, unions and the middle class.
Voters will decide if they want a former corporate raider, or, a corporate turnaround expert, to tackle the economy.