Casual TV viewers have seen the recent commercial where the middle aged business man on his way to the office sees a street musician and says “I want to form a band when I grow up.” Watching the current political campaign it seems that one candidate, Mitt Romney is struggling with a similar identity question.
This issue comes up because of his history of drastic reversals on policy issues. What image does he want to project, the highly successful venture capitalist from Bain Capital, or the folksy guy who worried about getting a “pink slip” a few times in his working life.
Two movie stories illustrate his dilemma, Wall Street and Other People’s Money. In the first, Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko proclaims to all “greed is good” and proves it by every ruthless and crooked means possible. In the other film Danny Devito plays Larry Phelps also known as “Larry the Liquidator” because he buys companies that have fallen on hard times and then closes them down and sells off their assets, thus making a profit while putting the employees of the company out of work.
The difference between the two venture capitalists is understanding human nature. Gordon Gekko understands the cost of everything and the value nothing while Larry the Liquidator tries to turn each painful experience into a win-win situation for all. The Danny Devito character does the trick by turning the employees to his side by making the experience profitable for them too.
The characters represent two approaches to selling off things that represent people’s livelihoods and employment. One way is to do it quick and without any sentimental wussiness while the other way is try and demonstrate some concern for those who will be affected but do not lose sight of the profit anticipated as a consequence of your deal.
Mr. Romney is trying to demonstrate that he can do both methods well. “I enjoy firing people” he says, conjuring his inner Gekko, and “planned parenthood, we are going to get rid of that.”
But as a political figure Mr. Romney must make his ideas palatable to a majority of the electorate and thus achieve his goal of becoming President of the United States. So we hear about his plan to give tax breaks to “job creators” who he thinks get the economy growing at a faster rate.
The task is daunting, blending the expedient effective coldness of Gordon Gekko and the warm rotund likeability of Larry the Liquidator. Mr. Romney’s awkwardness at merging those two approaches is manifest in his public appearances. He has the Michael Douglas role down pretty well but perhaps he could call Danny Devito for some help on the warm fuzzy part.