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Shields, Gerson on NAACP Speech, Olympics Uniforms and the Outsourcing Debate

July 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson discuss the week's top political news with Judy Woodruff. They analyze outsourcing, Mitt Romney's speech at the NAACP convention, tax loopholes and U.S. Olympic uniforms made in China.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

Gentlemen, welcome.

So, the debate over outsourcing jobs has expanded, as we have just heard, to a debate, Mark, over how much responsibility Mitt Romney bears for Bain Capital, the private equity firm, during a — I guess a period of years in the late 1990s, early 2000.

Is this a debate that really is going to matter?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it could, Judy for the following reason.

Support for free trade, which had been very strong among college-educated and upper-income people, has fallen dramatically. There is a sense that America has not benefited from free trade. And everybody knows outsourcing. You go across, as you have to the Midwest of this country, and community after community, there used to be a factory here, there used to be a payroll here, there used to be a middle class here where the jobs have gone.

Whether they call them offshoring or outsourcing, you know what they have left in their wake is lost payrolls and in many cases lost lives. So I think the fact that Mitt Romney’s credential to run for president is not his service as Massachusetts governor, which he doesn’t talk about at great length, is his leadership in business and his ability to create jobs.

And Bain is his company. You know, this is about whether in fact he is going to have to disclose his income over the past and his financial situation. I mean, that’s. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tax returns.

MARK SHIELDS: His tax returns. And it’s all of a piece. I mean, it’s Cayman Islands, it’s Bermuda, it’s Swiss bank accounts, it’s outsourcing. This is somebody who doesn’t understand what you’re going through and what your family is going through.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So is it just — it’s a lot bigger or not, Michael, than outsourcing?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, it’s the Obama campaign that made this not just about outsourcing, but accusing Mitt Romney personally of lying on government documents, which is a felony.

That’s what — campaign officials did this. For that kind of charge, you need significant evidence in the context of a presidential campaign, which so far has not just been lacking, but fact-checking organizations of The Washington Post and FactCheck.org have said, well, you know, this case is really quite weak. There’s very little evidence here.

And so that, you know, is, I think, a — it shows a tendency on the part of the Obama campaign, not just to criticize, but to vilify. So it’s not enough for Romney to do outsourcing and have a debate on outsourcing. He has to be a felon. It is not just enough that he won’t disclose his tax returns.

They compared him to Richard Nixon in the level of secrecy. I don’t think these are a particularly set of credible charges. Mitt Romney has a lot of problems, a lot of challenges on these issues. But he doesn’t come across as a Nixonian criminal figure. He’s more like a wealthy Boy Scout. So I think that this doesn’t meet the minimal levels of credibility. In my view, this particular swift boat sinks.

MARK SHIELDS: I would say this, Judy, that the fact-checking organizations made their decision or their call before the latest revelations about the SEC, where he is listed as the sole investor, as the CEO, as the chairman of the board of Bain all the way through to the year 2002, late 2001, when in fact he did separate himself from it to run for governor six Massachusetts.

So, you know, whether in fact it’s a felony, you know, I think that is hyperbole, no question about it. But I do think that what you have in Mitt Romney, every campaign — and I say this as a veteran of four losing presidential campaigns.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: But every campaign starts with the very simple procedure of sitting down with your own candidate and going through what is there in your background, whether it’s of a personal nature, or a failed romance, or a legal decision or whatever, that could come out and hurt your campaign.

And it happened obviously with George W. Bush in 2000 on the eve of that election in 2000, a close race. It was revealed that he had been arrested for drunk driving, convicted in — 24 years earlier. And it became a problem.

Mitt Romney, they have done this with Mitt Romney, not that there is anything of a criminal nature in his background. He made the decision he is not going to reveal. I mean, nobody has ever run for president with a Swiss bank account. I mean, Steve Forbes did, but he. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, again, you’re referring to the tax return.

MARK SHIELDS: His tax returns, yes. I just think it’s all of a piece and I just think it’s a problem.

Mitt Romney shouldn’t be on the defensive. He’s on the defensive.

MICHAEL GERSON: There is a problem here. Mitt Romney does have a challenge, because the response on Bain in particular is easy, but it’s not politically popular, which is Bain invested in companies that added jobs and expanded, invested in companies that reduced labor costs by outsourcing, both domestic and international, and invested in companies that closed and fired a lot of people.

You know, that — if you are disturbed by that, you are disturbed by modern capitalism. Mitt Romney wasn’t a crooked businessman. He was — this was the system that we have in many ways. And — but that’s a tough case for any presidential candidate to make. It’s a harsh — capitalism is a harsh system. The problem is, there is just no other good alternative.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about Mark’s point, though, that not releasing the returns is going to continue to be an issue?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think there is a challenge here, that it’s proof that the — once again that the very rich are not like you and me. They have accountants and lawyers who do all sorts of things to protect income that are perfectly legal, but don’t — but aren’t in the context of a political campaign very popular.

I think Romney wants to disclose these things on his own terms, in his own timing. And I think he is going to have to disclose more information before this campaign is over.

MARK SHIELDS: There is one great strength here that Romney does have, and I think it’s been overlooked.

And that is, the Republican position has been, we want to increase revenue without raising the rates. So that means closing tax loopholes or tax expenditures. There’s nobody who knows more about tax loopholes and tax expenditures than Mitt Romney.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, he brings an extra. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: I thought you were about to say this is positive.

MARK SHIELDS: No, that is positive.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: He understands it. This is a guy who could sit down with the tax code and explain it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of tax rates, just quickly, Michael, the president came out this week and said definitively he is for extending the Bush era income tax rates, except for those individuals earning $250,000 a year.

Does that have a lasting impact on this campaign?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I actually think that created an opening for Mitt Romney to some extent.

We have just seen an abysmal jobs report in the July jobs report. His response to that was something that had nothing to do with job creation. It’s just a four-year-old proposal to marginally increase taxes at the top of the income scale. Nobody thinks that that’s going to create jobs.

So I think it’s irrelevant to the debate. He was obviously trying to draw it — not to solve this problem that we saw in July, but to draw attention away from it with an argument about equity in the tax code. That could have been an opportunity for Romney. But he doesn’t seem to take advantage of these opportunities very effectively.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where does that one go?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it means that the future debt, which is cascading and the Republicans as well as Democrats have acknowledged a time bomb would be cut by a trillion dollars.

But I think we can make the case that this was a presidential political move by President Obama. I mean, that’s what it was. I mean, you know, he’s cutting taxes. He is cutting taxes for Mitt Romney. He’s cutting taxes for Donald Trump, just on the first $250,000 of their income, but he is cutting it.

But, I mean, no, it’s not going anywhere, any more than the repeal of Obamacare is going anywhere in the Republican House. I think they’re both part of the same. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly to both of you, NAACP had its national meeting this week. The — Mitt Romney went and spoke. You could argue that this was a group very aware — the president is very popular, Michael.

So what does it say that Mitt Romney went there? And then the next day, the vice president showed up and talked about how bad it would be for African-Americans if Romney were elected.

MICHAEL GERSON: I generally think that Mitt Romney deserves credit for going there.

It’s important for presidential candidates and presidents to speak to people that are not natural constituents on a lot of these issues. They need to represent the whole country. But it illustrates the point I was making earlier, a bit of a missed opportunity.

What he had talked about in the policy of the speech, in a rather good speech, but the policy was really generic Republicanism. There was very little creativity or innovation in the way he did outreach to a specific group. And that, I think, is a real weakness. It’s a strange passivity on the part of the Romney campaign. They should be doing aggressive outreach on these issues. There was nothing there that said, give me a second look.

MARK SHIELDS: I think it made sense. I’m always happy to see somebody go into a place and not pander to the room. He didn’t pander to the room.

I thought the booing was overstated and overrated, 15 seconds in 25 seconds. No one calls that booing. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: Generally a polite reception, but some booing when he criticized Obama health care.

MARK SHIELDS: No. Yes. Go to Yankee Stadium in the first inning.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: But I do think that he was speaking to suburban Republican women. I think he was speaking to people beyond that room.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Who were watching or reading about it.

MARK SHIELDS: And saying that they want a Republican candidate who is not demonize-able, if that’s an adjective, who is somebody who is comfortable talking to African-Americans.

And I think that is — to me, that is a natural overture for him to make and to say, look, this is not just your right-wing guy who is not going to show any outreach.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last question about, of all things, the uniforms for the U.S. Olympic team.

It turns out this week it was discovered that these uniforms — and we’re showing a picture of them right now — Michael, were made in China.

MICHAEL GERSON: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ralph Lauren, I guess, was the designer. Is this — what do you think? There’s a big uproar over this out there.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes. There’s some irony here.

The Olympics are supposed to be about international harmony. And you have the majority leader of the Senate calling for a bonfire of Chinese textiles. He said we should burn all these uniforms. That’s not quite the spirit.

But I would — you know this is the nature of the modern world economy. If you have an Apple, it has on the back designed in America, made in China. That’s what. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: On an iPhone or. . .

MICHAEL GERSON: Exactly.

And that’s what Ralph Lauren does with his products. And he was donating his efforts here. But, still, it was a foreseeable P.R. nightmare and somebody should have foreseen it.

MARK SHIELDS: The outfits look like preppie night at the yacht club. Let’s get. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: You didn’t like the beret?

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I didn’t like the whole thing.

I mean, add to that the logo, the Ralph Lauren logo, I mean, turns these people into — our athletes into human billboards. And so I just think — don’t look for the union label on these garments, let me tell you.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next time we are together, we are discussing designer clothes.

MARK SHIELDS: Let’s do that, and fabrics.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: I like what you both are wearing.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, Michael Gerson, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.