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Steve Rattner and Bain: It's complicated

May 21, 2012: 3:03 PM ET

Turncoat, or loyal soldier?

Stop the presses: A private equity exec supports private equity!

Memo to political journalists: Stop being so surprised that Steve Rattner defended Mitt Romney and Bain Capital from President Obama's attacks. Seriously. You're looking ridiculous.

Here's what I'm talking about: Last Monday, the Obama campaign launched its opening salvo on Mitt Romney's business background with Bain Capital. On Tuesday, Rattner was a guest on MSNBC's Morning Joe and, when asked, said he felt that Obama's anti-Bain ad was "unfair."

Cue the hyperventilation.

Rattner, after all, is best known as President Obama's car czar. So such criticism was viewed as evidence that Obama's attack on Bain was so outlandish that even one of the President's strongest allies couldn't stand by it.

For example, here was Time's Michael Scherer:

Then came Steve Rattner, a longtime Democratic bag man and former Obama Administration car czar, who stepped on the Obama campaign's long awaited assault on Mitt Romney's business record, by telling Morning Joe the whole war plan was "unfair."

Brutal, except for a key fact that Schrerer and dozens of other reporters have ignored: Steve Rattner used to be a private equity executive. And I don't mean 20 or 30 years ago. I mean just four years ago, before Obama asked him to become car czar. More importantly, he was a private equity executive for far longer than he was an Obama adviser.

Wouldn't this be a salient fact for reporters -- or perhaps Morning Joe -- to mention in recounting the comments? It would indicate that Rattner may have dueling loyalties -- one to his former boss, and one tothe industry that helped him afford a giant manse on Nantucket.

And, while they're at it, perhaps they should mention that the SEC banned Rattner from the securities industry for two years, based on his participation in a private equity pay-to-play scheme. But, again, that might complicate the tidy narrative...

Also worth noting that the Romney campaign has gotten into the selective identity game, with a new ad that only refers to Rattner as a "former Obama economic adviser and auto czar" before playing his comment (just the "unfair" part, of course, not a latter part where Rattner correctly calls Romney out on his unsupported job creation claims). Actually, it's a double-selective identity game, given that Rattner wasn't ever an Obama econ adviser (he supported Hillary in the campaign), at least not as a separate role from car czar.

Ugh. This really is just the beginning. A pox on everyone's house.

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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