Bill Clinton and Other Democrats Aren't Really Going Rogue on Bain

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In fact, party standard bearers are adopting the same line of argument as President Obama.

Given that it was the most predictable attack of the entire election, it's been surprising how poorly the Obama team has handled its attacks on Mitt Romney's Bain Capital record. The most embarrassing moment came when Cory Booker called the critiques "nauseating," only to quickly and artlessly backtrack. But after several days of flailing, the president finally articulated what his aides could not: an argument that while there's nothing wrong with private equity, it doesn't make you qualified to sit in the Oval Office. Here's what he said:

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 expertise. He is not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He is 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.

That argument is a little complicated, and it won't persuade everyone. But it's different from attacking Bain Capital itself.

Now, over the last few days, we've seen a couple further comments from high-profile Democrats Bill Clinton and Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts. Politico declared, "Deval Patrick aims for Mitt Romney, hits Obama," while Aaron Blake of the Washington Post was even more strident: "Bill Clinton sticks another fork in Obama's Bain strategy, says Romney had 'sterling' business career."

Let's go to the tape. Here's Patrick:

I think Bain is a perfectly fine company. They've got a role in the private economy and I've got a lot of friends there on both sides of the aisle. I don't think Bain is the point. The point is, has he actually created jobs, as he says he has, in the private sector? .... It's about whether he's accomplished, in either his public or private life, the kinds of things he says he wants to accomplish for the United States. And when it comes to growing jobs in the public sphere or fixing government, the record on that is not very strong.

And here's Clinton:

There's no question that in terms of getting up and going to the office and, you know, basically performing the essential functions of the office, the man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold. But they have dramatically different proposals.

One thing you might notice about these two quotes is that they're nearly identical to Obama's argument. It's worrisome for Democrats that they haven't managed to convey that, but the transcripts tell the truth. The headlines ought to follow.

The idea that Romney's private-sector experience wouldn't be an asset in office may well fall flat. It might work, too; as NBC's First Read crew wrote this morning, "Notice that all of the Dem praise of Bain has come from folks who live and work in the Acela Corridor (Booker, Rendell, Ford, Clinton). We've yet to hear from a single Democrat from Toledo or Green Bay about private equity's virtues. So be careful assuming Bain attacks don't work." But what we're seeing now is a closing of ranks -- not a splintering.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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