Lesson to Mitt Romney: Life Doesn't Happen Retroactively in the Real World

On July 12, in what is now a famous incident, Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter spoke on a conference call with reporters about the Boston Globe report of the same day revealing Mitt Romney remained at Bain Capital for three years longer than he claimed.

Dangling over dangerous logical ground, Cutter said there were two ways this report could be interpreted:

  • Either, she said, Romney was “misrepresenting his position” at Bain to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), “which is a felony”;
  • Or, she said, he was “misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people. If that’s the base, if he was lying to the American people, that’s a real character and trust issue.”

The obvious way to settle the issue, she said, was for Romney to release his tax returns: “If the SEC filings aren’t accurate, then prove it,” she said.

I said dangerous logical ground, above. Either/or fallacies, also known as the false dilemma, have a name for a reason, suggesting that there are only two possibilities when in fact, there is a third. Cutter is saying that either you are employed by a specified company, or you are not.

Strictly speaking, this is not fallacious thinking. You are either employed or you are not. There is no middle ground to employment, at least not in the world inhabited by the 99 percent.  And it’s a relevant question here; relevant to the claim also made by the Obama campaign that Romney’s Bain entity outsourced jobs overseas. If Romney was with Bain at the time (he claims he was not) then he bears responsibility.

On July 13, the Obama campaign went on the offensive, saying Either Romney filed false SEC statements or he’s making false statements to the American people now.”

Romney, of course, refused to do as Cutter asked; he refused to release his tax returns to prove his innocence (leading many to believe he has something to hide), and on July 13 flat out demanded an apology.

Barack Obama, for his part, wasn’t apologizing to anyone: “Mitt Romney. He sure asks for a lot of apologies. When he’s not busy launching attacks.”

David Axelrod appeared on CNN’s State of the Union on the 15th and had this exchange with Candy Crowley:

Crowley: Let me ask you, your deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said this week that the SEC documents show that Mitt Romney is either a felon or he’s lying to the American people. Do you think it’s possible Mitt Romney is a felon?

Axelrod: Actually that’s not what she said, Candy, and I was listening to the call when she spoke. She said, if he was in fact not the chief executive, the president, the sole shareholder and chairman of the company at the time, and that’s what was filed, that would be a felony. She didn’t say he was a felon.

Again, technically, Axelrod is right. Cutter said that if Romney lied to the SEC, he committed a felony, which is also technically true. Although we might ask how much difference there is between saying a person committed a felony and that they are a felon. Obviously, felonies are committed by felons.  Splitting hairs seems to be an art form in politics.

And if we were not permitted to say “person X” committed a crime, a felony in this case, we would never be able to charge them with crimes, would we? And why should the person of Mitt Romney be sacrosanct? According to the Constitution, he has no more rights than George Zimmerman or James Holmes, not that you would know it from his response to the allegations.

But as Stephanie Cutter told Wolf Blitzer on July 16, she is not accusing Romney of committing a felony; she is accusing him of lying to the American people.

She later added further clarification that “we’re not accusing Mitt Romney of committing a crime here; we’re actually saying that he’s misrepresenting his time at Bain to the American people.” She cited reports from independent news sources showing Romney received a salary and appeared in promotional materials for Bain during a time he has described as being his leave of absence from the company. His explanation, she added, simply “doesn’t add up.”

When asked if she regretted having used the term “felony,” Cutter responded that she certainly did not. “It’s a fact,” she said, that lying on federal documents is a felony. Which is, again, not what she is claiming Romney has done.

It is the Romney campaign that fixating upon the felony of lying on federal documents. It’s much better to focus on that, they reasoned, than talk about Mitt being a liar – a charge that is all too true and easily proved.

His wife, Ann Romney, ignoring all the sleaze thrown Obama’s way by her husband, said in an interview with Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts on July 19,

“I’m not disappointed, I’m not surprised. I believe it was beneath the dignity of the office of the president to do something as egregious of that. To attack someone on that level is, I think, beneath his dignity.”

Romney’s defenders argue that Cutter’s thinking is indeed fallacious, that there is middle ground – that elusive third choice. That as Romney himself said: Aha! There is a difference between owning a company and running a company.

Kathleen Parker, in an op-ed piece appearing in the Washington Post Sunday, said “When it comes to over-the-top politics, the Obama campaign has set a new standard with recent attempts to paint Mitt Romney as a felon.” Parker tried to finesse things:

Here’s how Cutter justified the original innuendo on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when co-host Mika Brzezinski pressed her on her use of the term. IF Romney misrepresented himself on his Securities and Exchange Commission filings related to his tenure at Bain Capital, THEN he would have committed a crime, she said.

Sheesh. If/then: What a basis for defamation and slander.

Yeah, we wouldn’t want to depend on causation, would we, Kathleen? And it’s not defamation or slander if it’s true. Also, Cutter has the virtue of being correct. If Romney lied to the SEC, then he committed a crime. Or, he lied to the American people.

The Romney defense, that there is a difference between owning and running a company, is splitting hairs. If you own a company, what happens in the company you own makes you ultimately responsible: the buck stops with the owner in the same way that President Obama will ultimately be held accountable for anything that happens on his watch.

Stephanie Cutter has the most original and playful response – she apologized to Mitt Romney – retroactively:

Now I have provided this timeline of events because the sequence of who did and said what when is critical. On July 16, Mother Jones put together such a timeline for Romney’s Bain involvement.

November 1993: “Romney takes a leave of absence from Bain Capital to run for Senate against incumbent Democrat Ted Kennedy.” A Bain executive “tells the Boston Globe that he ‘reported directly to Mitt Romney’ during the leave of absence. ‘You can’t be CEO of Bain Capital and say, ‘I really don’t know what my guys were doing.'”

November 1994: “One day after losing to Kennedy by 17 points, Romney returns to Bain. ‘I had been gone for a year, and they were getting along without me,’ he wrote in his 2004 book, Turnaround. ‘But Bain Capital was my baby and I was back in town. I owned 100 percent of the voting stock. I basically went back to doing what I had done before, without a day’s rest.’

April 1998: “Having expanded its investment in Corporate Software Inc., Bain makes another big move into the outsourcing market when an affiliate, Brookside Capital Partners Fund, acquires 6.13 percent of the Hong Kong firm Global-Tech Appliances. The company provided outsourcing for American appliance manufactures like Mr. Coffee and Proctor-Silex. According to SEC filings, Romney controls the investment. In December, Bain discloses that it has split its Global-Tech shares with a Bermuda-based corporation, Sankaty Ltd., for which Romney served as sole shareholder, director, and president.”

February 1999: “Romney announces his departure from Bain Capital to run the Salt Lake City Olympics. The Boston Herald reports that ‘he will stay on as a part-timer with Bain, providing input on investment and key personnel decisions.’ In Turnaround, he writes of his decision, ‘I would walk away from my leadership at Bain Capital at the height of its profitability and take a position without compensation.’ According to Bain Capital and the Romney campaign, this marks the drop-dead point: ‘He has had no involvement in the management or investment activities of Bain Capital, or with any of its portfolio companies since that time,’ a Bain spokeswoman told David Corn in July.”

March 1999: “More than a month after Romney claims to have retired from the company, new filings with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) indicate that he is still the sole shareholder and president of Brookside and Sankaty.”

July 1999: “A Bain Capital press release notes that Romney is ‘currently on a part-time leave of absence to head the Salt Lake Olympic Committee’ and quotes him praising two departing subordinates.”

Needless to say, a part-time leave of absence is not retirement.

November 1999: “Along with Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, Bain purchases $75 million worth of shares in Stericycle, a medical waste company that, among other things, disposes of aborted fetuses. Documents filed with the SEC state that Romney has ‘voting and dispositive power’ as CEO of Bain.”

January 2000: An SEC document signed by Romney states: ‘W. Mitt Romney is principally engaged in the business of serving as sole stockholder of BCI VI, Inc. (Bain Capital Investors VI).’ Another SEC filing seven months later identifies him as ‘managing director of Bain Capital.'”

November 2000: ‘Ann Romney tells the Boston Globe that Bain has absorbed almost all of her husband’s time. Romney “has had to lessen his involvement with Bain Capital, his investment firm,’ the paper reports.”

Remember what Mitt Romney said in his demand for an apology that there is a difference between owning and running a company? Apparently not, according to the testimony of his wife at the time. Remember that Romney said he left Bain in February 1999, so why is Bain absorbing all his time in November? Why is his wife complaining that Romney has “lessened” his involvement with Bain? If he quit, shouldn’t his involvement have ceased altogether? Romney’s adviser Ed Gillespie said Romney “retired retroactively.”

 

Gillespie’s response, when Romney’s web of lies became public, was to say “It’s sad to see. We now know that this president will say or do anything to keep the highest office in the land, even if it means demeaning the highest office in the land.”

As if his candidate won’t say anything to get the highest office in the land. But deflecting his man’s misdeeds on President Obama won’t work. Claiming causation means nothing won’t work. If Mitt Romney lies, if his campaign lies, the timeline does not.

The Boston Globe reported that “a Massachusetts financial disclosure form Romney filed in 2003 states that he still owned 100 percent of Bain Capital in 2002. And Romney’s state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain “executive” in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings.”

That doesn’t sound like retirement to me. You can’t be paid as an executive if you’re retired. At least, the 99 percent can’t, if they’re lucky enough to be able to retire at all.

Kathleen Parker protests, “Or don’t facts matter just a little bit?” and I answer, yes they do. Facts are what this entire imbroglio is about and Mitt Romney has proven, his campaign has proven, that he is not good with facts.  Facts are, for Mitt Romney, what needs to be true today for Mitt to get nominated and then elected. That is all they are. The famous Etch A Sketch moment was perhaps the only truthful thing said by his campaign (or the candidate) since he announced his candidacy.

Neither, apparently, is Parker good with facts: she wants us to believe that Mitt is innocent of the outsourcing charges based on a July 2, 2012 FactCheck.org article that finds the Obama campaign to “be all wet”; On July 20 she wrote “On July 2, well before Cutter made her media rounds.”

Remember when I said that what is said when is critical? This FactCheck piece Parker fawns over predates the Boston Globe article of July 12 which brought the new allegations to light, allegations to which Stephanie Cutter was reacting.

But apparently, in Kathleen parker’s world as in Mitt Romney’s, you can be retroactively exonerated, or exonerated in advance, so to say – all these time travel paradoxes are confusing. George Zimmerman (or more recently, James Holmes) would no doubt love to use this defense: that he did not kill anybody because evidence provided the day before the killing(s) proves he had killed nobody. Or are there special exceptions to the laws that govern the universe that apply only to Mitt Romney?

And so we return once more to Stephanie Cutter’s either/or and if/then statements. Either Romney ran Bain Capital or he did not. If he did, and if his company outsourced, then he is responsible for that outsourcing; Either he lied to the SEC and therefore committed a crime, or when he claimed he did not outsource he lied to the American people.

There is no finessing these basic facts.

This should be a lesson to Mitt and his campaign that life for the 99 percent doesn’t happen retroactively and what happens today doesn’t invalidate what happens tomorrow. Maybe things are different in Mitt’s circle – a place where facts are truth and lies are all situational and time is meaningless – but the American people will not judge Romney according to how Romney sees these things because they don’t live in Romney’s universe. Unlike Romney, they live in the real world where time creates certain constraints, and so they will judge him on his merits.

And on his merits…well, things aren’t looking very good.

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