Say what you will about him, Mitt Romney is the real thing: a Wall Street guy to his bones, a numbers whiz who took a small start-up, Bain Capital, and helped turn it into a $65 billion giant among private equity firms (which is what we now call the the old corporate-raiding leveraged-buyout buccaneers we used to think of as "barbarians at the gate" back in '80s; in case anyone was wondering, they're now allowed inside the gate). Romney actually is, in other words, what Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and Rick Perry can only talk about in the abstract: he's a real capitalist.
Yet the public may no longer be interested in making the distinction between Wall Street firms that follow the rules and those that don't. The reason that what Gingrich and Perry are saying resonates goes back to Wall Street's offenses over the last decade with subprime mortgage securitization. The issue here is not really about "the rough and tumble of market capitalism," as the Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib suggested at the debate last night. Most Americans don't have a problem with that. The issue is really the CORRUPTION of market capitalism represented by the massive fraud that Wall Street banks got away with and were bailed out with no questions asked, all of which has punctuated for average Americans how record levels of income inequality ow exist in our economy.
That's why the public is likely to get its dander about Romney's 15 percent. This is an issue that unites conservatives and liberals, OWS protesters and tea partiers alike. As I wrote in my 2010 book Capital Offense, both the Left and the Right were justifiably offended by the way the American system of capitalism---real capitalism, that is, the way it's supposed to work --- were subverted by the institutionalized fraud of the subprime era as well as the massive bailout that followed. Liberals were appalled by the rampant destruction of social equity, and the rigged way so much wealth was amassed in the hands of the 1 percent; conservatives were outraged that the system didn't work the way it was supposed to: if you fail, you die.
So Romney may have tougher road this general election season than he thinks.