Just hours after giving a rousing speech on Tuesday in which he criticized Mitt Romney for shipping jobs overseas at Bain Capital, President Obama attended a fundraiser in Austin, Texas at the home of Tom Meredith. Meredith, a former Dell executive, once said he would be ”ruthless” about cutting costs at Dell and defended the company’s plan to lay off between 3,000 and 4,000 employees while sparing about 4,000 jobs in Asia Pacific. While Obama has promised to be a pioneer of “insourcing” manufacturing jobs, he reneged on his 2007 campaign promise to renegotiate NAFTA roughly five minutes after taking office and has surrounded himself with economic advisors who are clear proponents of outsourcing (e.g., Larry Summers or Jeffrey Immelt).
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is doing Olympic-level gymnastic feats in order to pretend he left Bain Capital before all the real outsourcing (and corporate pillaging) began. In other words, Romney would prefer to have the American public believe he did a terrible job delegating responsibility (he was still the CEO and sole shareholder of Bain after 1999) than to say what he really thinks, which goes something like this: “Hells yeah, I outsourced!! It was perfectly legal, and I made a lot of money doing it, which – hello! – is the whole point of investment firms.“ That’s how damaging it would be for voters to catch even a whiff of this outsourcing menace: Romney would rather they believe he was an incompetent and irresponsible CEO than admit that his firm legally made money by shipping jobs overseas.
But of course he can’t admit that, because that lifts the disguise of populism that all politicians must wear in order to win votes in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where citizens have a disproportionate say in our presidential elections due in part to the electoral college system.
The rest of the time, politicians have a much more nuanced position on the issue of outsourcing. They are permitted to whisper quietly to their advisers about creating jobs in sectors other than manufacturing and are able to have honest debates about which trade policies benefit the American economy in the long-run or what regulations might prevent human rights abuses.
But not now, during this strange holiday season we call the election cycle. Now politicians must pull their protectionism costumes out of the attic and grunt “All outsourcing BAD. BAD!! Me hate outsourcing more than opponent!!!” at every campaign stop. As surely as we will soon be spending $20 or less on a crappy picture frame for Glen in accounting whose name we picked out of the Secret Santa hat, so too does this holiday season arrive every four years. But instead of donning elf hats or eating turkey, our politicians mark this holiday with beer-drinking photo ops and disingenuous debates about outsourcing. Republicans pretend to care about the American worker, while Democrats pretend that protectionism is the only means of keeping American workers employed.