Republicans and Educated Idiots

Over the course of my life I’ve met or worked with some of the most brilliant people in their field.   People who did cutting edge research, top-of-the-line doctors, computer scientists, and inventors.  What I also found out that it wasn’t uncommon that these same people, as brilliant as they were in their field, were bumbling idiots when it came to anything else.   There were times when you’d wonder how they managed to dress themselves, and other times when  you wondered if turning in your common sense was a prerequisite for getting that advanced degree.  One of the phrases that described them was:  Educated idiots.

So what does that have to do with the Republicans?  In looking around, it’s remarkable at how many Republican voters seem to consider success in business as a strong qualification for elected office.  They fall all over themselves when it comes to some successful businessperson announcing that they might deign to run for office.  The squeals of delight from the Republican faithful and rabid adulation are rather remarkable.

The problem?  While those people may indeed be successful in business, they make lousy politicians, and if they happen to get themselves elected, turn out to be relative disasters in that office.  I was rather forcibly reminded of that when reading about Herman Cain during his spell in the spotlight.  Yes, he ran a pizza chain.     Which is wonderful, except that he was an idiot when it came to understanding basics of foreign policy, or even the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.  In fact, it appears his understanding of the Constitution was pretty shaky in the first place.

But he was just another in a long line of business people whose ability in business doesn’t seem to translate to reasonable competence in the political arena.   Carly Fiorina bombed as a spokesperson for John McCain and as a candidate for Senate, as did Meg Whitman as a candidate for Governor. New York sent Carl Paladino back to run his business after he failed to become governor.   In fact, he failed miserably in his attempt.  Which was a good thing for New York, because Florida actually did vote in a businessman as governor, where he managed to set speed records for becoming unpopular, as he cancelled a much desired (by businesses) high-speed rail line, slashed education spending, and in general hasn’t done much for the state.  The same is true for Paul LePage in Maine.

What the conservatives have done is fall prey to an old logical fallacy, one of the “ad hominem” group:  The appeal to authority.  It’s considered a fallacy when the person who you’re using as an example is not an expert or an authority in the particular field.  You see this a lot in many areas – “Famous Person” says (this), therefore, it must be true.  Except that Famous Person is not an expert on (this), and their opinion does not carry any more weight or truth than any other person’s.

The reasons this keeps happening are because of two fallacious beliefs.  The first is that government can be regarded as “a business.”  Which leads to the second fallacy, that because someone is successful in business, it will automatically translate to success in government office.   Why are they fallacies?  Let’s look at the first:  Government as a business.  It’s not, and it’s  (purposely) designed that way.  Besides the obvious fact that government isn’t supposed to make a profit,  I have a hard time thinking of any business that has three independent and co-equal branches, which may override the others on decisions.  A business would not last long with one of those branches in direct opposition to one of the others, yet that is not uncommon in government.  Another big difference might be called “core competency.”  A business has them,and focuses on them – or should.  It’s usually a disaster when it tries to do too much or branches into areas where it has no idea of what it’s doing.  It’s simple, in many ways.   Now contrast what we  – even the most hidebound conservatives – expect  government to do.  A military.  Diplomacy.   Commerce.  A host of things that we expect the government to be able to do,  and scream loudly if it doesn’t do them well.  It’s all on the plate.   A President, a Governor doesn’t get to focus on one aspect, they have to worry about them all.

Besides the differences, what the people who have run businesses have trouble with  when it comes to being a candidate – and even if they’re successful – is a cultural adjustment.   A “boss” doesn’t really have to answer to anyone.  Yes, a corporate CEO does have to answer to a board, but generally they’re other CEO’s.  But no one under them is likely to contradict them, and whatever personal opinions they have outside of the business aren’t really germane.  As a candidate for office, many people are going to contradict you, and yes, your personal opinions do matter.   No one really paid any attention to Herman Cain’s political opinions when he was just running  Godfather’s Pizza.  It really didn’t matter whether he knew the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Nobody cared if he didn’t know much about Libya, or that Cubans speak Spanish.  As a candidate for President, it did matter, and yes, his opinions received attention – and criticism.

Now, they’re going to run Mitt Romney for President.  What’s his “selling point?”  That he has business expertise, that he knows how to “create jobs.”  Looking at his business background, it’s apparent that … his expertise was not in creating jobs.

His business model at Bain Capital was one of picking the meat off the bones of struggling companies to maximize profit for wealthy investors. He did this by picking away at jobs, decent wages and benefits plant by plant AND by attaching massive new debt to those that were moderately healthy. There were cases where companies were rebuilt and emerged stronger but fewer than 30 percent of Bain’s acquisitions could make that claim.

But at least he served as a governor, so he knows the political aspects of the job, right?  Well, not quite:

Referring to the time later when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, a Democratic lawmaker recalls, “You remember Richard Nixon and the imperial presidency? Well, this was the imperial governor.” There were the ropes that often curtailed access to Romney and his chambers. The elevator settings restricted access to his office. The tape on the floor told people exactly where to stand during events. This was the controlled environment that Romney created. His orbit was his own. “We always would talk about how, among the legislators, he had no idea what our names were—none,” the lawmaker said, “because he was so far removed from the day-to-day operations of state government.”

In other words, he acted as the CEO of a company, not as the governor of the state.  He even took an early out, when it looked like things were going south.   One might say he “retroactively resigned” as Governor.     He’s behaving like a CEO, and treating the public like underlings.  It’s “rude” to question his financial dealings, his ever-changing story, his personal finances,  or point out the constant lies. He doesn’t seem to quite understand that he’s not the CEO of a company anymore, he’s running for President.  He apparently didn’t learn the difference between “running a business” and “running a government” in his term as a governor, because he still behaves like his having been a CEO is the most important thing.  The problem with conservatives?  They seem to think it is as well.

13 Comments

Filed under Business, Politics

13 responses to “Republicans and Educated Idiots

  1. nathkatun7

    Norbrook, as always, you totally nailed it. Besides, look at what happened with our most recent businessman President. In just 8 years, he brought the country to the brink of disaster. I’ve been arguing with some of my conservative acquaintances who are so sold on Willard “Mitt” Romney’s business experience. I keep reminding them that government –and especially the U.S. government with co-equal branches that are intended to check/balance one another — is not a business. In my opinion, If President Obama had the power of a CEO, this economy would be in much greater shape than it is now. Unfortunately, he has had to deal with a Republican dominated Congress that is so single-mindedly focused on derailing his presidency, no matter what.

    • All you have to do is look at the recent record of various conservative businesspeople who have actually gotten into office. All of them have run into a major case of “culture shock,” even when Republicans control the legislature. As Governor Scott found out – although he keeps trying – legislators don’t particularly like “imperial governors,” and tend to demonstrate that they don’t answer to the the governor.

      • Vic78

        I hate the way that business is treated in this country. You would think conservatives were talking about the 12 disciples the way they talk about businessmen. “He knows what he’s talking about he ran a business.”

        Here’s a youtube video of a town hall meeting where a master politician is playing against a master businessman. Notice the businessman doesn’t even bother and they’re talking economics.

  2. aquagranny911

    Excellent! There is hardly anything I can add to this except Mitty is not just a “business man” He is a lying, cheating, disgusting, self entitled sack of caca.

    That is all!

  3. Vic78

    I’d expect Romney to have better chops as a politician because his pops was a popular governor. As far as Willard being a business man, there’s a difference between him and a Bill Gates. I respect Gates as a business man. Any asshole can do what Mitt did at Bain. There’s no way that I could accept making millions off of a deal where the business fails. It takes some brass balls to think that a career like that would qualify one to be POTUS.

    • I’d have expected him to have better chops not just because of his father, but because he was a governor and had run for President before. That’s in addition to his experience running for the Senate against Ted Kennedy. You’d have thought that those experiences would have meant something to him. It’s telling that he didn’t learn anything, because 90% of the things that are hurting him now are things that any competent politician would have seen coming a mile away.

  4. majiir

    Many Americans refuse to shed the belief that “a businessman makes a great president.” As you point out, Norbrook, they fail to understand that a government is not a business. I remember when Romney became the presumptive GOP nominee, many conservatives here in GA were cheering. They were so sure that a background in business meant a person could solve all of America’s problems. What they fail to understand is that a business lacks the different layers of responsibility that exist in governments throughout the u.S. No business has to worry about checks and balances or separation of powers. Unless conservatives are endorsing a unitary executive form of government in a Romney administration, they can expect to be disappointed. Many Americans adamantly refuse to study history to learn that sometimes, there are huge differences between reality and what they believe.

    “In a scholarly ranking of great presidents, a 2009 survey conducted by C-Span,6 of the 10 best leaders lacked sufficient business experience to be president by Romney’s rumination. This list includes Ronald Reagan, the actor, union activist and corporate spokesman, and John F. Kennedy, the naval officer, writer and politician. There is one failed businessman on the list of great presidents, the haberdasher Harry S. Truman.”

    “By contrast, two 20th century businessmen — George W. Bush, whose sweetheart deal with the Texas Rangers made him a multimillionaire, and Herbert Hoover, who came by his mining fortune honestly — were ranked among the worst presidents ever by the same historians. Bush left the country in a sea of debt and an economic crisis rivaled only by the one that engulfed Hoover.”

    “Both George W. Bush and Romney are Harvard Business School graduates, further padding their business cred. Once they started governing, both men failed to improve the economic lives of those under them.”
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/31/the-wrong-resume/?ref=opinion

    • Exactly, and it’s not just conservatives who seem to want a “unitary executive.” I’ve seen the same asinine belief from various of the left. I’ve been in elected (non-governmental) positions and I’ve run a business. There’s a big difference, and it’s something I’m very well aware of. When I was in elected positions, it was a rare occasion that I could just do something by decree. Usually I had to scrounge up votes, get other elected people to sign off, and so on. That’s opposed to when I had a business, where it was simply a matter of checking the bank balance and deciding if I wanted to do or needed something. I didn’t have to answer to anyone about it.

      The other key thing is that businesses are about making a profit. Governments aren’t, and anyone who tries to run it as if it should usually runs into real problems.

  5. Mitt Romney will be the Bain of this country if elected. (yeah I did it, just had to. :) )

    But on a more serious note. Couldn’t we say that the large majority of politicians aren’t experienced in the areas when they first come to office as a freshman Congressperson or President, regardless of their political ideology (unless before coming to office they have actually worked in government and gained experience sufficient for the elected position)? I think where Republicans fail is in learning once they get elected. Instead their minds are closed and they insist on using their “business” sense in a totally unrelated field. (as you point out) and fail miserably in office.

    • What the majority of politicians have had is experience at the lower levels of elected office. So hopefully, they’ve been able to learn from that. What I see with Mitt – and the others who jumped in from a business – is that they don’t grasp that they’re not running a business anymore, and that a government is not a business. Rick Scott got into a lot of trouble with the Republican legislators by treating them as underlings who were supposed to just “do what he told them to do.” What keeps astonishing me about Mitt is that he hasn’t seemed to have learned from his stint as governor, or as a prior candidate.

  6. Yes, people used to being “the boss” tend to have trouble understanding the politics requires compromise, finesse, and taking into account other peoples’ interests, feelings, etc. Romney probably has enough political experience to understand how to govern – he compromised and pioneered things like Romneycare back in Massachusetts, and had to deal deftly with the Olympics. The possibility he could succeed as President comes from his political past, not his Bain years.

    What worries me is that his campaigns are totally disconnected from anything to do with how he’ll govern. It’s purely an effort to simply win, doing whatever it takes. We have little clue on how he’d really govern.

    But you’re right on about Scott and especially LePage. He’s frustrated that he couldn’t pass his extremist plans even though the GOP controls both Maine houses for the first time in decades. And from what I heard, he was a pretty obnoxious boss in the private sector too!

    • I think if you want a clue, you look back at his stint as governor. He mostly started right off with the same problem as Scott and LePage. Even more, as I pointed out in the post, he took off for over 200 days during the last two years of his 4 year term. All of which is not exactly something to look forward to.

      What I keep seeing with Romney is not just the “whatever it takes to win” effort, but also that it’s not a competent effort. We may expect politicians to shade the truth, tell a few untruths, and so on, but the blatant, shameless, not even caring outright lies he constantly tells are setting a new standard. He’s getting hit on issues that any competent candidate – or campaign staff – would have been ready for. I know a lot of people expected him to head “back to the middle” once he had the nomination sewed up, but he’s sticking right there with the lunatic fringe.

  7. I have to say that Romney is nowhere near holding the middle independent voters IMHO. Certainly not in my house anyway. 3 or 4 weeks ago my wife and I were watching tv and one of Romney’s hit pieces against Obama commercials came on. When it was over my wife and I had a discussion about his shots at the President. Now, my wife is a bit more to the right than I am – but no fan of the Republican Party. She said that Romney was full of it and she disliked the outright negative ads he aired against Obama.

    She then went on to say while she doesn’t like all the President has brought about she sees no reason not to vote for him in this election. In her mind he has made some improvements, and besides I can’t think of one President in recent decades who hasn’t had some of his policies and works disliked.

    Obama hasn’t been as bad for the country as I was worried he would. I was wrong about him and I will quietly eat crow (pass the salt please). Right now, baring some freak occurrence President Obama has the two votes of this household. Romney can go back into business and stay there – we don’t want him in the White House. Or better yet, he can continue to campaign the way he is and provide more votes for Obama.