It was one of Barack Obama's best lines -- and best moments -- in the 2008 presidential campaign.
He had said we could save as much oil as we could get from domestic drilling if everybody properly maintained their cars and got their tires inflated. Now, that was hyperbole. But when conservatives, including his opponent, Sen. John McCain, tried to turn tire gauges into a symbol of Obama's pointy-headed liberalism (remember Dukakis and the endive!) and the sum total of his energy plan (if only!), Obama stood his ground.
"It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant."
The line struck a chord. It signaled that Obama was going to elevate the conversation even if he risked being demagogued or distorted. Of course, this was back when a lot of people thought Obama was a more enlightened politician rather than an unknown pol being marketed as one. Still, it was smart. He punctured a bubble of faux hysteria.
We could use a little -- a lot, actually -- of that sort of thing from Mitt Romney.
The former CEO of investment bank Bain Capital, Romney has found himself ensnared in an idiotic controversy: Was he or wasn't he the head of the company when it made investments that led to outsourcing? He says he left Bain in 1999 to rescue the Salt Lake City Olympics. But Securities and Exchange Commission documents show that he was still the CEO on paper after 1999, when the company began outsourcing. Romney says he was in transition and not making day-to-day decisions at Bain. This defense absurdly boils down to saying his company was angelic up until the moment he left, when it turned diabolic. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign accuses Romney of either committing a "felony" by falsifying SEC documents or committing the even greater sin of -- gasp! -- misleading the American people.
Who can doubt their sincerity? Lord knows the president has been nothing but forthright and honest with the American people about his own past -- his own memoir notwithstanding.
Regardless, Romney has largely made this mess for himself. His tenure at Bain and his fat-cat status have been the subject of attacks throughout his political career. And yet he was caught off-guard.
Still, he needs to pop the hysteria bubble.
First, let's be clear: Outsourcing isn't evil. Building businesses overseas doesn't necessarily cost America a thing and often creates wealth and value both here and abroad. Consider the patriotic lamentations over our Olympic uniforms being made in China. Would it be better if we cut the training budget or cut athletes from the team to pay for more expensive uniforms?
But going by the flimsy standards being hurled at Romney, one might wonder why Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness is infested with outsourcers. Jeffrey Immelt, the council chairman, has "sent" tens of thousands of jobs overseas while closing factories in America. Xerox, also represented on the council, not only helps other firms outsource, it paid India-based HCL Technologies $100 million in 2009 to consolidate its data centers.
Obama's preferred cap-and-trade policies would amount to a massive jobs, wealth and pollution transfer to countries like China that don't tax fossil-fuel use. Even his green energy program has given huge subsidies to firms that create jobs overseas. ABC News' Jonathan Karl reported that of the $2 billion in stimulus dollars spent on wind power, nearly 80 percent of the money went for windmills built in foreign countries. Heck, Obama's campaign has even used a Canadian telemarketing firm.
And yet it's Obama who's benefitting from faintly xenophobic ads about how Romney wants to give foreigners your job.
Obama's mercenary hypocrisy is not the point. What's significant is his -- and a lot of other people's -- willful ignorance about outsourcing and investment banking.
Is it really so shocking that that the dying companies Bain tried to turn around shed jobs? Is it fair or intellectually honest to hang a global trend of the last 40 years around Romney's neck? Do all the liberal activists tweeting on their made-in-China smartphones actually believe what they're saying about the evils of outsourcing?
Indeed, if what Bain Capital does is so evil, why are the public pension funds of California and Pennsylvania shareholders in Bain? If private equity is the enemy of the working man, why do unions -- including the Service Employees International Union -- park nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars in dues in private equity funds?
In a sense, Romney deserves more blame than Obama. He knows the truth but won't defend the industry that made him rich and gave him the career he says qualifies him to be president.