As any political observer knows these days, Mitt Romney is under scrutiny (to describe the current attacks politely) for his role at Bain Capital, a firm he headed from 1984 to 1999.
Bain Capital is a venture capitalist firm that specializes in buying out companies that are new or struggling and might not have ready access to capital. It's not uncommon for firms like Bain to cut costs in newly acquired enterprises, restructure them and lay off employees.
The questions raised about Romney's time at Bain focus on whether he is a "job creator" (Romney claims that 100,000 jobs were created by Bain during his tenure) or a heartless "vulture capitalist" (Newt Gingrich's phrase) who laid people off in droves and reaped profits from liquidations.
I continue to be amazed at the number of commentators who are aghast that anyone would question the practices of capitalism ... as if morality did not apply to money markets and jobs and benefits. Financial practices can be perfectly legal and still be immoral, depending on the circumstances.
I think some of these candidates should check out Catholic social and economic teaching for some basic principles of fairness and equity.
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But the story about Romney that really got me was the one about the way he treated his dog. I was never inclined to support Romney anyway, but if I had been, the story of his dog would have ended my support instantly. Why? Because it suggests a man incapable of imagining himself in the place of a helpless creature. To many, it has suggested animal cruelty.
Here's the story: Romney took his family on a trip from Boston to Ontario, Canada, where they had a cabin on Lake Huron. The dog, an Irish setter named Seamus, was put in a carrier that was strapped to the top of the car for the 12-hour trip. Twelve hours! Partway through the trip, some "brown liquid" was oozing its way down the back of the car. The dog was sick from this travel. So what did Romney do? He stopped at a gas station, hosed down the dog and the car, and continued on.
What all this suggests to me is that Romney was heartless or at least oblivious to the needs of the "least of these." Yes, in this case, the "least of these" was a dog, but most of us would feel a real responsibility for a creature that could not control his environment, a creature we would claim we love as an animal companion in life.
So, what kind of feelings would Romney have for people who are the "least of these"? Those who need jobs? Those who are homeless? The immigrants he wants to ship back?
I wonder if the answer may lie with Seamus the dog.