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.