A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about how the 2012 Obama campaign had a noticeably harder edge than the 2008 edition. While I was reporting the piece, some of the people I spoke to at the White House and working on the campaign downplayed the differences between this time and last time, but none of them put much effort into denying it. In fact, when I asked about one specific attack on the GOP that marked a departure from 2008 (the “war on caterpillars”—see the piece if this doesn’t ring a bell), a White House official told me, “It’s always been true that you’re either playing offense or defense, and offense is better than defense.” 

As it happens, the campaign is really taking this advice to heart these days. It just released a lacerating ad accusing Mitt Romney of being a serial job out-sourcer, which ends with the line: “It’s just what you’d expect from a guy who had a Swiss bank account.”  

I’m not sure the ad is entirely fair. It says that, “As a corporate CEO, [Romney] shipped American jobs to places like Mexico and China.” But my understanding from the definitive book on Romney is that he wasn’t the CEO of the companies that outsourced jobs—the ad’s clear implication if not the literal text. He ran a firm (Bain Capital) that acquired other companies (often using enormous amounts of debt) and dispatched teams of managers to restructure them, sometimes through outsourcing. Or, put differently, Romney was a bit further removed from the outsourcing decisions than the ad suggests. 

Having said that, it’s clearly the case that Romney and Bain Capital made money when the companies they took over became more efficient in the short-term, and short-term efficiency often meant laying off workers and outsourcing jobs. (We can debate whether that made the companies more efficient over the longer-term. I’m not convinced it did, at least not in every case.) 

Which is to say, the ad may be harsh, but there’s more than a kernel of truth here, and it certainly isn’t egregiously unfair. Rather, it’s just what you’d expect from a guy running a tough but conventional re-election campaign, to paraphrase Team Obama. This may seem jarring coming from the people who brought you hope and change in 2008, but it’s not so jarring in the context of a high-stakes presidential election. 

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