Business Leadership

I keep hearing from Romney supporters that a businessman should run the government….

But that’s kind of like saying, “I need a doctor to heal me.” We wouldn’t let any doctor work with our aching body — we have criteria for choosing a doctor in our network, including their specialty, empathy and availability.

I just wish my Romney-supporting friends could articulate what it is about Romney the businessman that especially qualifies him as a businessman leader. They’re just parroting the spin — and letting their frustration give voice to a generic hope that someone who has made millions will balance the budget.

OK, we know Romney’s a better businessman than Bush, Jr., who wove his wealth-at-birth into several failed ventures before he became president and birthed the crisis Obama inherited. So maybe Romney’s a better businessman than Bush. Romney took his millionaire inheritance and made more millions by buying and selling companies with Bain Capital.

But is a business model really good for government?

According to The Nation, no. “Even looking just at the historical economic record, Romney’s argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The economy has not performed better under presidents who had business experience. All four of the modern presidents who had significant business experience—Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and both George Bushes—presided over significant economic downturns. The first three were blamed for failing to take effective corrective action and consequently lost their bids for re-election. That may not always have been fair. The OPEC oil embargo may simply have been beyond Carter’s power to affect. But it is far from obvious how business experience gives a president the ability to lower oil prices, as Romney promises to do, when they are really set by global supply and global demand.”

No, according to the Constitution Center: “The appeal of a businessman-politician is fairly clear: in a world of gray hues, we think of business as refreshingly black and white–you either make a profit or you don’t, you succeed or you go belly up. Successful businessmen carry the “take charge,” “can do,” “suffer no fools” kind of attitude that seems well-suited to mastering big problems. (Think of the more recent appeal of Ross Perot, Lee Iacocca or, shudder, Donald Trump.) But that superficial characterization overlooks some critical differences between business and politics.

Where business is an autocracy, governance relies on the consent of the people. Where a corporate chief executive runs an enterprise at his personal whim (more or less, depending upon the nature of his Board of Directors), the president in our democratic system has two coequal branches of government with which to contend. A business exists to sell something to people; a government exists to provide essential services to people.”

No, according to Salon.com: “Running an economy that is good for business is radically different from running a business, in a number of ways.  To begin with, most businesses focus on providing one or a few goods or services. But modern governments are responsible for everything from protecting citizens from foreign enemies and domestic criminals to countering recessions and depressions and educating the next generation. The simplest government is far more complex than the most complicated private firm. Finally, business executives may be blinkered by narrow perspectives that are actually harmful to the system in which they flourish. That is because what benefits each particular business in the short run may be bad for the capitalist economy as a whole in the long run.”

No, according to Vanity Fair: ”

In business, C.E.O.’s can succeed by mastering—even dominating—their environment, with loyal subordinates who will jump when told to jump and a hierarchical structure in which their word is law.

But no such dominance is possible in politics, which is always the art of the possible, a game in which personality, charm, people skills, the ability to communicate, and a swing-for-the-fences style all matter so much. Upon leaving office, Harry Truman famously said of the five-star general who was about to succeed him, “He’ll sit right here and he’ll say do this, do that. And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army.” Truman may have misread Ike’s career—Eisenhower was not an imperious martinet but a skilled politician who knew how to handle prickly egos—but he was right about the wrong way to behave as president. It may well be, as the Romneys of the world like to say, that most politicians have “never met a payroll,” but most businesspeople have never dealt with the wily, needy, fickle types who populate a typical legislature, either.”

Think about it. Leaders lead and learn in specific contexts. Romney may be a great businessman — but that doesn’t mean he’d know what to do the more complex tasks of national governance in a global crisis.

3 comments

  1. Carol, you need to know about this group, and they need to know about you. The OpEd Project.

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    1. Thank you so much, Marguerite! I’ve contacted them, on your recommendation. WHAT A GREAT PROJECT!

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  2. […] Romney is a businessman leader whose careless words and smug dismissiveness have brought us an understanding of his privileged […]

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