Bumper Sticker Politics

A good friend of long standing favored us with a ticket to the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball contest with the University of Tulsa’s Hurricanes last night, and he threw in a ride as well. It made for a fine fall night of sports spectating, but the experience was marred when we found ourselves stopped en route behind a car with bumper stickers shouting that “‘Koch’ and ‘Bain’ are Four Letter Words” and “Corporations Are Not People.”
Noting the heftiness of our friend’s vehicle we urged him to ram into the offending bumper, but he told us that he had already considered the option and decided against it. We immediately forgave our friend’s soft-heartedness, yet that random motorist’s loudly proclaimed political opinions annoyed us throughout the night.
The “Koch” on the first bumper sticker referred to the Koch brothers, the billionaire oil-refining magnates who have become the bogeymen of the left because of their unapologetic advocacy for capitalism, and the “Bain” referred to the venture capital firm that rescued a number of important American businesses from bankruptcy, which is also reviled by the left because it was run for several years by failed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Despite the left’s fondness for four-letter words, we took the sticker to mean that the motorist found something foul about the names. Both are indeed four letter words in the literal sense, and we credit the bumper sticker’s author with being able to count that far, but we doubt that random motorist could have given a coherent explanation of why either should be considered obscene.
An aspersion on the Kochs seemed especially ridiculous on a car here in Wichita, where Koch Industries is a mainstay of the local economy and a generous benefactor to many local charities. Indeed, we were headed at the time to Charles Koch Arena, the venerable old “roundhouse” that has been nicely refurbished through the generosity of its eponym, and it’s difficult e for the more high-minded citizens of this city to visit any of our local cultural institutions without finding similar evidence of the family’s philanthropy. The Kochs also fund a few free market think-tanks and activist groups, so perhaps such exercise of freedom of speech is what the motorist found so objectionable, but even so it doesn’t seem something worth bothering other drivers and their passengers about.
President Obama’s recent re-election campaign spent many millions of dollars publicizing the evils of the Bain Capital Group, accusing it of everything from massive lay-off and off-shoring of jobs to causing on employee’s wife to get cancer, so it might have been that relentless onslaught of propaganda that provoked the motorist’s indignation. The Bain group prevented a lot more lay-offs and off-shoring than it ever caused, and the wife-killing charge was dismissed by even the most reliably Democratic media, but some people seemed to desire a villain to vilify. The other bumper sticker suggested it was a more general anti-corporate sentiment, though, which the motorist would also be hard-pressed to coherently explain.
Aside from the incongruous fact that the bumper sticker was affixed to an automobile manufactured by a large corporation, and the motorist had therefore chosen not to transport himself in something made by a hippie commune or lesbian co-op, we were offended by the sticker’s implication that there is something sub-human about corporations. Corporations are not people, not if you want to get so strictly and snottily literal about it again, but they are comprised of actual people who deserve their constitutionally enumerated rights. Labor unions, universities, non-profit charities, and similarly fashionable entities are not people, either, and there is no reason why people should be able to organize themselves into any sort of collective other than corporations without sacrificing their rights.
Our encounter with that opinionated automobile wouldn’t have been so galling if its bumper sticker sentiments hadn’t become the governing philosophy of our nation. The same simplistic aversion to commerce now underlies the government’s approach to tax policy, regulation, and spending, and permeates the broader culture as well. Liberals take pride that the war on business seems to be going so well, yet wonder why the economy continues to suffer. Envy is also a four-letter word, as our friend our remarked, but it seems to be the driving rationale for our politics.
On the brighter side, the ‘Shockers easily won the game against their erstwhile arch-rivals and improved their season to record to an unblemished 7-and-0, a surprising result for a team thought to be in a rebuilding year. Should the team become any more successful, we’ll probably soon be seeing bumper stickers grousing that “Shockers Aren’t People.”

— Bud Norman

The Bain of Politics

Mitt Romney’s rather easy victory in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary wasn’t unexpected, as he was once governor of a neighboring state and had been campaigning there for the past five years, but we were surprised by the strange line of attack his rivals attempted.

A solid background in business has been Romney’s main selling point to conservatives who are wary of such deviations from conservative orthodoxy, especially the Obamacare-like reforms Romney enacted as governor of Massachusetts, so his challengers attempted to use his successful years with the Bain Capital investment firm against him. The company made a great deal of money by buying failing businesses and making them profitable, a process that sometimes involved axing extraneous workers, and Romney’s challengers somehow found that offensive.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich started it off by accusing Romney of “bankrupting companies and laying off employees.” Rick Perry, Texas’ adroit but tongue-tied governor, piled on by comparing Bain Capital to “vultures.” Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who fought Romney to a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses, went so far as to take Romney’s comment that “I like being able to fire people” when choosing health care insurance plans and edited it down for an advertisement to “I like being able to fire people.”

Such tactics are to be expected from the Democrats, who are so constitutionally opposed to firing anyone for any reason that Nancy Pelosi remains their leader in the House of Representatives, but it seems a strange thing to do in a Republican primary, where most of the voters have a favorable opinion of capitalism and understand that it sometimes entails laying off workers. The argument might have even increased Romney’s appeal by reminding voters that he has experience taking over organizations awash in red ink and paring them down to an economically functioning size, which is exactly what the next president will need to do with the federal government, and it can’t help his rivals to be sounding like some bleeding-heart Occupy camper.

We expect to hear a lot more about Bain Capital and its ruthless ways if Romney wins the nomination, which looks all the more likely after Tuesday’s win, but we’re not convinced it will work much better with the general electorate. Romney will have ample opportunity to explain that if some workers hadn’t been laid off their companies would have gone out of business, leaving everyone out of work, and that Bain Capital’s efforts have resulted in a net increase in jobs. A large number of people are so resentful of anyone with the power to fire, and so fearful of being fired, that they will be susceptible to the anti-Bain arguments, but we expect that most Americans will be able to see the bigger picture, and that everyone likes being able to “fire” people by taking their business elsewhere.

Americans have been known to “fire” their presidents, after all.

— Bud Norman