Just a few short years ago, vampires ruled. Twilight, True Blood, and other cultural obsessions posited the vampire as perfection–a strong predator who is not merely beautiful, but never ages. Joan Rivers with a mixed martial arts fighter’s body.
But perhaps it is a sign of our times that these ubervampires have morphed into the far more campy ones in Dark Shadows. As Americans lost our appetite for the sort of blood-sucking predators who ruled Hollywood and Wall Street, vampires no longer haunted our cultural imaginary as heroes, but as villains. By the time Matt Taibbi used the phrase “vampire squid” to describe Goldman Sacks in 2009, the vampire had lost his mojo.
So perhaps it should be no surprise that the Obama campaign released an ad comparing Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital to a vampire. Needless to say, a blood bath ensued. Corporate leaders and corporate media whined that not all private equity firms are bad, that Bain Capital had “success” stories, that the unemployment rate for firms taken over by private equity firms is just slightly higher than average, and so on and so forth. Obama’s former “Car Czar,” Steven Rattner, who oversaw the auto industry bailout, complained that the ad was “unfair” since job losses are “part of capitalism” and Romney’s job at Bain Capital was not to produce jobs, but to produce profits for investors. Fox News immediately used the ad as further proof that Obama is “anti-capitalist” and coming from the far left.
Obama, being Obama and neither anti-capitalist nor far left or even left, came out firmly in the middle, saying at a news conference on Monday that not all private equity firms are bad, that Bain Capital isn’t bad, that all he meant to say is that maximizing profit is not the preparation that is needed for being the president since more is involved than producing profit, but something called the “common good.”
The Obama campaign’s vampire metaphor is hardly anti-capitalist propaganda. It is, in fact, a fairly accurate description of what happens when neoliberal economic policies lead to almost zero regulation of the market. Bain Capital did in fact bankrupt the company featured in the ad, Kansas City’s GST Steel. According to The Week,
In 2001, shortly after Romney left Bain, GST went bankrupt, 750 employees lost their livelihoods and pensions, and Bain walked away with a $12-million profit.
Alas, what Obama and the Dems are offering is not a larger critique of the no-holds-barred capitalism of the past three decades, but rather a plan to mitigate the effects of rising income inequality with government programs. As Jonathan Chait at New York magazine puts it:
This is the backdrop for the larger philosophical debate undergirding the presidential campaign, and the larger fight between the two political parties. The Republican position is that the rise in inequality is perfectly fine, as it signals rising rewards accruing to those who have justly earned them. Conservatives have coalesced around the view that market incomes are inherently just…
Democrats are not proposing to roll back the staggering rise in income inequality. … They do, however, believe that the diverging fortunes of the middle class and the ultra-rich offer more urgency to the case for a government that supports the unfortunate and extends opportunity to the middle class.
Which leaves those of us who used to worship the vampires now in the odd position of trying to protect ourselves from them with government programs like cloves of garlic and crucifixes. But what we really need is a stake to push through the heart of the greedy, blood sucking sort of capitalism that has made the US the country with the least equitable income distribution in the industrialized world and that is a stake that Barack Van Helsing is just not willing to wield.