Friday, June 15, 2012

The presidency is not a business

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has begun saying that President Barack Obama cannot function as president, not because the economy was devastated by the worst financial crisis since 1930, but because he was never a businessman.

Romney's solution is a constitutional amendment requiring the president to have spent at least three years working in business before becoming president.

A positive correlation between business success and a great presidency seems a reasonable assumption, despite that correlation not applying to Jimmy Carter who was a successful peanut farmer. The evidence, however, proves otherwise.

President Harry Truman failed spectacularly as a haberdasher. That didn't disqualify him from recognizing the state of Israel or deciding to use the atomic bomb against Japan. The Romney amendment would have disqualified George Washington, a military leader who married money. Lawyer Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and saved the union without any particular business acumen. Franklin Roosevelt, born to wealth not business, was considered a traitor to his class for his attempts to stimulate the economy. A recent president to have some hands-on experience in the business world, Ronald Reagan, was president of a union, not a business owner.

Business is done in the competitive world of risk and reward. Public policy and public service are done in the very different collaborative world of guaranteed access and shared interests. Romney may have stumbled onto something, however. Had he worked as a community organizer for three years, he might have learned something about what it takes to operate in the world of ordinary citizens.

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