Romney’s defense of his work as a venture capitalist is one of the truly authentic parts of an otherwise heavily scripted campaign. He speaks with genuine passion when he accuses his conservative opponents of putting “free enterprise on trial.” But that goes to the heart of the matter: “Free” for whom and under what circumstances? Capitalists of Romney’s sort never want to acknowledge how much their ability to make money depends on what government does. How does it structure the laws related to property, taxation and debt? What rules does it write on how companies can be acquired and how power within firms is apportioned among shareholders, employees, managers and other stakeholders? These are not natural laws. They are the work of politicians and the lobbyists who influence them.
Dionne's position is intellectually sound yet tone deaf in the typical liberal Democrat manner. If GOP leaders fear that this issue will hurt them in the general election, it's not because they think Gingrich or Perry exposed any vulnerability of Romney's on the subject of capital's dependence on the state. If the two bomb-throwers have gained any traction at all, it is because theirs has been an appeal to the working class. Perry and Gingrich obviously still believe in free enterprise, and they want working-class Republicans to believe that they'll benefit from it except when a "vulture capitalist" like Romney preys on businesses. What a Democrat or anyone to the left of the Republican party should add at this point requires a little tweaking of Dionne's paragraph, or cutting it down to one crucial sentence: "Capitalists of Romney's sort never want to acknowledge how much their ability to make money depends on the working class." That's the point Gingrich and Perry can't quite make, despite their rhetorical implication that companies like Bain are betraying American workers. Because of their own dogmatic commitment to free enterprise, the two Republicans will ultimately find themselves hard pressed in Republican company to explain why layoffs as perpetrated by Bain are wrong. That's when someone like Dionne should step in, instead of opining on the majesty of the state. It's not an irrelevant subject, but if he wants to bring it up, he should also open a debate on who gets to make those rules. His own complacent answer to the question isn't necessarily the right one.