Running a business is not running a government

The recent New York State Republican Party primary saw Carl Paladino, a Tea Party favorite win the nomination for governor.  His main qualification for the office seems to be that he’s rich.  Very rich.  I’m sure that once we get past the rather … interesting … things he’s done in his past, and his public statements, we’ll be inundated with campaign statements about how his business success “qualifies” him to be governor.

Given his actions, and his statements though, it’s apparent that he’s unaware of the difference between running a business and being a governor.   His statements about what he wants to do once he becomes governor, and the actions he’ll take make that clear.   He’s thinking of it as being in charge of his business, and that he’s going to run the state like he would his business.    Which, in reality, are quite different things.

You see, governors don’t have the same capabilities that a business owner does.   Governors  have to work with a legislature, which can (and will) do quite a bit to either make the governor’s ideas a success or doom them to failure.  No, the governor does not get to order them around, or at least not very often.  Particularly if he’s from the party which does not control the legislature.  Besides that, there are also limitations and separation of powers built into the structure of the government –  it’s called a Constitution and the laws of the state. To be able to govern effectively, he can’t just decide that something will happen, and expect that it will – he has to persuade others to go along, and be willing to cooperate and compromise.

I understand that difference.   I’ve been a business owner, a supervisor, and yes, I’ve been in the military.  I know what it’s like to be able to decide what needs to be done, and how I want it done – and that people will do what I tell them to do – or else.  As a business owner if I wanted to buy something because I thought it was necessary, I just went and did it.  I didn’t have to ask, and I didn’t have to persuade anyone.  But I’ve also been in elected positions, as a delegate, an executive board member, and as an officer of the organization – including being the President of one.  It’s a different game entirely.  Yes, I had authority, but at the same time I had limits.  There were other people who were elected as well, and had their own responsibilities – and if I wanted to do something, I had to get them to go along with me.  I didn’t get to do a lot of telling them what to do, I had to ask them.

Failure to understand that difference is why successful businesspeople often make lousy politicians.  They’re used to telling, not asking.  When they carry that into public office, they’re suddenly given a rude awakening.  There are others who are just as powerful, who are not answerable to them, and are quite likely to push back.   That’s a lesson that first time public officials of all parties learn the hard way.   In the case of Paladino, he’s apparently had years of not being answerable to anyone but himself,  and as a very wealthy businessman has not been questioned or called on the carpet very often – if at all.  That’s changing in just the campaign, as he’s finding out.  Blowing off the press just means that his business practices are being examined by the press. Insulting powerful politicians that he’s going to have to work with is not a good idea, if he wants to get anything done.

Unlikely as it is that he’ll be elected – personal wealth can only take you so far – if he were to be elected, he’d be a singularly ineffective governor.  He apparently is very good at running a business, but he’s showing he lacks the skills to be a good governor.   It’s not the same skill set, and people who think it is often have a rude awakening.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Running a business is not running a government

  1. Well said, and this same truth applies at the national level of politics as well. More than once I’ve explained to my daughter that the US President doesn’t get to be an absolute ruler – he (or she) can’t decide what will, or won’t be – but must gain the cooperation and approval of that pesky Congress.