Obama to Romney: ‘You’re Missing What This Job is About’

President Barack Obama during a press conference on the second day of the NATO Summit in Chicago on May 21, 2012.

Photograph by Wang Lei/Xinhua/Zuma Press

President Barack Obama during a press conference on the second day of the NATO Summit in Chicago on May 21, 2012.

This was an answer waiting for a question.

The president got the question:

”Mr. President, could you give us your sense of just what private equity’s role is in stemming job losses as they seek a return on investment for their investors?” It was asked of President Obama by Hans Nichols, of Bloomberg News, at a news conference in Obama’s home town of Chicago during a NATO summit.

And he was ready with an answer:

The president opened and closed by underscoring that “this issue is not a, quote, distraction.” He said: “This is part of the debate that we’re going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on main street, have a shot at success.”

In his expected election contest with Republican Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who made his fortune at Bain Capital and the personal investments that have accrued since his years running the private equity firm, the management of the American economy is the central question. Polls show a slight majority of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, and Romney is running as the fix-it man who knows more than just something about business.

As the Obama campaign plays ads spotlighting the jobs lost at companies where Bain took control, Romney replies in his own ad: “Have you had enough of Obama’s attacks on free enterprise? His own key supporters have.”

Romney is speaking primarily of Cory Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark and Obama ally who called the attacks on Bain Capital as “nauseating” as attempts by the opposition to draw the incendiary remarks of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor in Chicago, into the 2012 campaign. Booker was voicing that frustration over the negativity of the campaign on “Meet the Press.”

Booker later modified his remarks on YouTube: “Let me be clear,” he said in mass-tweeted video message, “Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign. He has talked about himself as a job creator, and therefore it is reasonable, and in fact I encourage it, for the Obama campaign to examine that record and discuss it.”

And therein lies the rest of Obama’s answer.

“Now I think my view of private equity is that it is — it is set up to maximize profits, and that’s a healthy part of the free market,” Obama said at the news conference today. “That’s part of the role of a lot of business people. That’s not unique to private equity.”

The president went on to say “And as I think my representatives have said repeatedly, and I will say today, I think there are folks who do good work in that area, and there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs or new industries. But understand that their priority is to maximize profits. And that’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers. And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience…”

“He’s saying, ‘I’m a business guy, and I know how to fix it,’ and this is his business. And when you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. 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. Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so that they can attract new businesses. Your job as president is to think about how do we set up an equitable tax system so that everybody’s paying their fair share that allows us then to invest in science and technology and infrastructure, all of which are going to help us grow.”

“And so, if your main argument for how to grow the economy is, ‘I knew how to make a lot of money for investors,’ then you’re missing what this job is about,” the president said. “It doesn’t — it doesn’t mean you weren’t good at private equity, but that’s not what my job is as president. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure that the country is growing not just now but 10 years from now and 20 years from now.”

“And so, to repeat, this is not a distraction,” Obama said. “This is what this campaign is going to be about, is what is a strategy for us to move this country forward in a way where everybody can succeed?”

That’s his answer, and he’ll be sticking to it for the next five and a half months.

Romney, presumably, has spent some time working on the reply.

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