If The Government Shouldn’t Play Venture Capitalist, Then Why Should Mitt Romney Be President

The conservative take of Solyndra is slightly ridiculous, but I do find the basic view, nominally espoused by Mitt Romney, that the government “shouldn’t be playing venture capitalist” makes sense. And yet here’s Ben Smith with the hypocrisy hit:

But Romney is a private-sector venture capitalist by vocation, and during his tenure as Massachusetts Governor he set up a program almost exactly like the ones he’s now denouncing.

In 2003, Romney launched the Massachusetts Green Energy Fund, a $15 million project aimed at providing “an opportunity to capitalize on two emerging trends: the growing level of investment interest in clean energy and the importance of Massachusetts’ academic and corporate R&D in forming clean energy technology companies,” according to its website.

At the time, Romney called the fund a “springboard for the commonwealth by focusing on job creation in the renewable energy sector.”

Hypocrisy, though, is always a bit of a lame argument. The deeper issue here is that “the government shouldn’t play venture capitalist” line seems to me to cut at the core of Romney’s argument about himself. Romney is running on the idea that his business experience is an important qualification for the presidency. That would seem maximally plausible if his agenda was precisely for the government to act as a venture capitalist. Then you’d say, look guys Barack Obama shouldn’t be playing venture capitalist hire me instead. But if Romney is going to (correctly) recognize that the operation of a firm and the operation of the executive branch of the U.S. government don’t really have much in common, then what’s the case for Romney?