One of my other jobs is writing the theater column for The New Criterion, but I rarely get to write about movies. But, wow, lucky me, I finally get to share some cinematic observations. Having watched every minute of When Mitt Romney Came to Town, the Gingrich-affiliated super-PAC hit film about Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital — the things I do for you! — I have concluded that it promises to be a career-ender, and that the career it will end is Newt Gingrich’s. It is the most embarrassing, vulgar, illiterate outburst you are likely to find.
What should worry Mitt Romney is this: When it comes to filmmaking, the Democrats have a much deeper bench, better skills, and more effective distribution channels. When it comes time for Hope and Change Features to proudly present a Barack Obama production along the same lines, the Democrats will not make the same mistakes. If he wants to be president, Mitt Romney had better get a lot more persuasive than he is today when it comes to explaining his business career.
When Mitt Romney Came to Town employs every anti-capitalism cliché in the book: You want a guy blowing cigar smoke nefariously? You got it. Ominous fades to black-and-white? It’s in there. An attaché case full of $100 bills? Aplenty. (Because, as everybody knows, Wall Street tycoons do their business in old-fashioned paper Benjamins, and in fact derive all their professional practices from Wesley Snipes in New Jack City.) You want cheap xenophobia? Get a load of “He took foreign seed money from rich Latin Americans.” (Translation: “Eek! A Mexican!”) You want a sad-faced toddler watching the news (really, a four-year-old watching CNBC) while the talking heads go on sadly about the closure of KB Toys outlets? Yeah, they did that, and they superimposed a Red Chinese flag on one scene, too. Et cetera ad literal nauseam.
The sort of people who are going to be influenced by this illiterate little film weren’t going to be voting for Romney, anyway, since they’re busy occupying Portland or occupying Austin or occupying anything but an honest job. They’re Democrats or Ron Paul voters, if they are voters at all.
Spare a moment of sympathy — but not too much — for the laid-off workers exploited by the makers of When Mitt Romney Came to Town. They are hurt, angry people who are not terribly articulate, but who can be riled up to say banal and ignorant things for the purposes of cheap political theater. One woman, whom the filmmakers like so well they have her repeat the line three times, protests: “It hurt so bad to leave my home because of one man that’s got 15 homes.” But of course there are limits to sympathy (and this, among other things, is why I’ll never be president), and one is tempted to retort: “If you really think that the value of your labor is that high, how do you explain the fact that nobody else wants to hire you at the wage you were earning before your firm went out of business, and doesn’t that disparity suggest that the company was not especially well-run?”
I know, it’s hard to give that speech to Grandma. But the fact is that output is the production of an interaction between labor and capital and, as it turns out, those executives who are always saying “Our people are our most important asset!” often are not telling the truth. When capital gets put to more productive uses, the labor left behind discovers that its value without the capital that had been at its disposal is relatively low. That’s a hard fact to live with, but a fact nonetheless. If you want to improve the value of labor, you get it more capital to work with — and where might you go for that? The answer is: investors, including private-equity investors such as Mitt Romney. If you want to improve American employment and American wages, your main tools are going to be improving the American education system and improving the American investment climate.
On the other hand, if you view jobs as entitlements and believe that workers should be permanently protected from changes in the marketplace, you believe that profits from investing are nefarious, believe that less-productive enterprises should be somehow sustained indefinitely in order to preserve the less-productive jobs associated with them, then — wait, why are you voting in the Republican primary again?