An article [This Is What a Businessman in the White House Looks Like] by Ben Adler, in The Nation, caught Malcolm’s attention.
It is, essentially, an attack on Mitt Romney and his pretensions:
Romney likes to contrast his own résumé with President Obama’s by saying, “To create jobs, it helps to have had one.” He means that a job is not really a job unless it is in the for-profit sector. Likewise, Romney asserts, “I’m a guy who has lived in the world of business. [If] you don’t balance your budget in business you go out of business. So I’ve lived balancing budgets.”
Even some of his erstwhile rivals say Romney’s experience in consulting and private equity qualifies him to be president. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who harshly criticized Romney’s record when running against him in 2008, recently offered this endorsement of Romney on CNN: “Governor Romney has almost a perfect record for a person to be running right now, experience in government, experience in business, understands the economy.”
Adler then considers the remarkable lack of success by US political leaders from a business background:
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.
Hoover ( a mining engineer) and Carter were massively more successful, and acclaimed after office than during it. As for Dubya:
The election of 2000 was the first time a Romney-esque figure, George W. Bush, a minor oilman and partial baseball team owner before serving as governor of Texas, became president. Bush, the first “MBA president” and his powerful Vice President Dick Cheney, who had been CEO of Halliburton, disproved the notion that businessmen are efficient managers or fiscally responsible in public office. The Bush-Cheney record—bungled occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the non-response to Hurricane Katrina, exploding national debt—and recent economic history should make Romney’s pitch a bad one for this election cycle.
If anyone still hold illusions and delusions about Bush II, there’s always the late Molly Ivins and her Shrub (which deals with Governor Bush of Texas) and Bushwacked (moving on to the presidential “legacy”). You don’t have to political to relish the laugh-out-loud wit and (in)discreet venom of either or both. Even so, and a word of caution here, Molly (in You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You) noted how Bush took the Texas Governor’s Mansion from Ann Richards:
Ann Richards’s electoral loss to George Dubya Bush will keep political scientists studying for years. By all the conventional measures, she should have walked back into office. Her approval rating was and is over 60 percent—practically golden. The state’s economy is gin-nin’, crime rates are down, school scores are up, she never raised taxes, never had a scandal.
The short, easy version is that Richards lost because of President Clinton. In Florida, where Clinton was at 42 percent in the approval ratings, Governor Lawton Chiles pulled it out. In Texas, where Clinton hovers around 36 percent, there just wasn’t a shot. Another short, easy version is that she won by 100,000 votes last time against a gloriously inept opponent, and in the meantime, 120,000 people have moved into the state and registered Republican.
The more complex and more accurate version is that George Dubya ran a helluva campaign and Annie ran a dud. Their race became a peculiar black-and-white negative of the 1992 presidential race between George Dubya’s daddy and Clinton, with Richards as the stay-the-course, no-vision candidate and Bush as the proponent of change, change, change. George Dubya’s campaign was full of ideas and plans (of dubious merit, but what the hey), while Richards neither successfully sold what should have been limned as a brilliant record nor projected any enthusiasm for a wonderful future. The New Texas disappeared. The television ads were lousy.
Malcolm wondered whether something similar might be said about the local UK experience. Only two examples of Prime Ministers with direct business experience came to mind:
- Harold Macmillan, who was for twenty years between the Wars an active junior partner in Macmillan Publishers;
- Stanley Baldwin — his family firm of Stourport iron-makers and tin-platers transmogrified, via Richard Thomas and Baldwins into a component of British Steel and now Corus.
Both must be accorded a degree of political success.
And then there’s David Cameron and his brief excursion into the PR-demimonde of Carlton Television.
Fortunately Ian King, the Business Editor of The Sun (before that rag was dragooned into Murdoch’s Tory love-in) went on record:
Along with other financial journalists, I was unfortunate enough to have dealings with Cameron during the 1990s when he was PR man for Carlton, the world’s worst television company.
And a poisonous, slippery individual he was, too.Back then, Cameron was far from the smoothie he pretends to be now. He was a smarmy bully who regularly threatened journalists who dared to write anything negative about Carlton — which was nearly all of us. He loved humiliating people, including a colleague at ITV, who he would abuse publicly as “Bunter” just because the poor bloke was a few pounds overweight.