In the spotlight of the world stage, President Barack Obama on Monday unapologetically defended his campaign's attacks on Mitt Romney's record at the private equity firm Bain Capital and vowed to keep up the onslaught all the way to November.
"This issue is not a distraction," Obama defiantly declared at a press conference wrapping up a NATO summit in his hometown of Chicago. "This is what this campaign is going to be about."
"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," the president said, evidently relishing the opportunity to knock Romney.
"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 ten years from now and 20 years from now," he said.
Obama's campaign has drawn fire, including from Democrats, for ads focused on the fate of GST, a Kansas City steel mill Bain bought in 1993 and put into bankruptcy in 2001. Romney left Bain in 1999, but maintained an interest in the firm.
In January, the Reuters news agency published a long analysis of Romney and Bain's record with GST, along with his record in private equity overall. (Of note: The plant's owners approached Bain Capital "because it had earned a sterling reputation for turning companies around.")
The Romney campaign has hit back by portraying Obama's criticisms of Bain as an attack on capitalism, and wasted no time in turning Democratic Newark Mayor Corey Booker's description of the attacks as "nauseating" into an ad.
"President Obama confirmed today that he will continue his attacks on the free enterprise system," Romney said in a statement after the embattled incumbent's remarks. "What this election is about is the 23 million Americans who are still struggling to find work and the millions who have lost their homes and have fallen into poverty," Romney said. "President Obama refuses to accept moral responsibility for his failed policies. My campaign is offering a positive agenda to help America get back to work."
Obama had been asked about the ads, Booker's criticism, and for his views on private equity as a whole.
The president praised Booker as "an outstanding mayor" who is "doing great work" and "helping to turn that city around."And then he gave a lengthy, combative reply in which he repeatedly targeted Romney's signature argument to voters on the economy, Obama's greatest political vulnerability.
"My view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profits," he said. "And that's a healthy part of the free market. But that's not always going to be good for communities or business or workers."
"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 experience," Obama said. "He's not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts, he's saying 'I'm a business guy, 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," he said. "Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot."