President Obama defended his campaign’s attacks on layoffs at Bain Capital under Mitt Romney’s ownership, telling reporters at a NATO summit that Romney’s business experience is critical to evaluating his qualifications as president.
Obama declined to criticize Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a supporter who on Sunday called attacks on Bain “nauseating.” Booker is an “outstanding mayor,” Obama said. But the president made clear that he thought Bain was not only fair game, but essential to the process of determining the next president.
“It is important to recognize this issue is not a distraction,” he said. “This is part of the debate we will be adding in this campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and Main Street, have a shot at success.”
“If your main argument for how to grow in the economy is, ‘I knew how to make a lot of money for investors’, then you are missing what this job is about,” he said.
While Obama said he felt private equity was a “healthy part of the free market,” he said that firms’ first priority was not job creation, but “to maximize profit,” a goal that can be damaging when applied to public service.
“The reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Gov. Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience,” he said. “He is not touting his experience in Massachusetts. He is saying he is a business guy, and this is his business.”
Obama outlined why he he felt Romney’s model at Bain poorly prepared him for the presidency.
“When you are president as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits,” he said. “Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who get laid off and how are we paying for their retraining.”
Obama concluded that being president “means I have to think about those workers in that video just as much as I am thinking about folks who have been much more successful,” a reference to people featured in his campaign videos who lost their jobs at companies after they were purchased by Bain Capital.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.