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Election 2012: Bain is here to stay

May 22, 2012: 3:33 PM ET

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama has made one thing very clear: He will be talking about Bain Capital a lot between now and Election Day.

"This is what this campaign is going to be about," Obama said Monday after drawing a distinction between what Mitt Romney did as CEO of Bain Capital and what is expected of a president.

Obama's comments came at an unlikely venue -- a NATO summit, of all things. But they are the clearest articulation yet of Obama's argument why he thinks the skills required of a private equity king are not be particularly beneficial, and might even be detrimental, for a White House hopeful.

The president's comments are nuanced, but it's easy to see how the theme will translate to the campaign trail. Just check out Vice President Joe Biden's comments on Tuesday: "Your job as president is to promote the common good. That doesn't mean that private equity guys are bad guys. They are not. But that no more qualifies you to be president than being a plumber."

It's worth reading Obama's comments in full:

I think it's important to recognize that this issue is not a "distraction." This is part of the debate that we're going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main Street, have a shot at success and if they're working hard and they're acting responsibly, that they're able to live out the American Dream.

Now, I think my view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profits.  And that's a healthy part of the free market.  That's part of the role of a lot of business people. That's not unique to private equity.  And as I think my representatives have said repeatedly, and I will say today, I think there are folks who do good work in that area.  And there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs or new industries, but understand that their priority is to maximize profits. And that's not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers.

And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be President is his business expertise. He is not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He is saying, I'm a business guy and I know how to fix it, and this is his business.

And when you're President, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who got laid off and how are we paying for their retraining. Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so that they can attract new businesses. Your job as President is to think about how do we set up a equitable tax system so that everybody is paying their fair share that allows us then to invest in science and technology and infrastructure, all of which are going to help us grow.

And so, if your main argument for how to grow the economy is I knew how to make a lot of money for investors, then you're missing what this job is about. It doesn't mean you weren't good at private equity, but that's not what my job is as President. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure that the country is growing not just now, but 10 years from now and 20 years from now.

So to repeat, this is not a distraction. This is what this campaign is going to be about -- is what is a strategy for us to move this country forward in a way where everybody can succeed? And that means I've got to think about those workers in that video just as much as I'm thinking about folks who have been much more successful.

Of course, there are a few footnotes about the president's argument that are worth considering. First, Romney did spend four years as the governor of Massachusetts -- and that's not off limits just because he talks about his time in the private sector. Romney's record as governor is likely far more indicative of what kind of president he would make than his years at Bain Capital -- no matter how often he talks about either one.

And it's easy to see how a critique of private equity presents opportunities for Obama's opponents to strike back. There is nothing illegal about private equity, and as Obama notes, Romney was wildly successful at leading Bain Capital. Obama himself had little executive experience before he entered the Oval Office, and he is already perceived in many quarters as being too critical of business.

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About This Author
Charles Riley
Charles Riley
Reporter, CNNMoney

Charles Riley lives and works in Hong Kong, where he covers markets, economics and other high-impact stories across Asia. He previously worked for CNNMoney in New York and CNN in Washington. He tweets @CRrileyCNN

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