Lost in the exhaust of mendacity left in Las Vegas this week, after Donald Trump brought his birther fantasies to town on behalf of Mitt Romney, was a curious statement by the man who has now cinched the Republican nomination for president.
On Tuesday, the same day Trump proved yet again that money and truth, like money and taste, are seldom twined, Romney talked about amending the Constitution to require the president to have business experience. He spoke approvingly of a notion from a store owner who wanted to make anyone who does not have at least three years of business background ineligible to lead the country.
“He said, ‘I’d like to have a provision in the Constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birth place of the president being set by the Constitution, I’d like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States,’” said Romney, cheerfully summarizing this rewrite of the founders’ governing blueprint.
Well, there goes Teddy Roosevelt, the writer, rancher and police commissioner, not to mention his distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt, the assistant naval secretary and politician, or Dwight Eisenhower, the career soldier. Ike’s résumé, which includes defeating the world’s most concentrated form of evil in Nazi Germany, would not be enough to qualify him for the presidency.
Romney has made business experience the main reason to elect him. Without his business past or his projections of business future, there is no there there. But history shows that time in the money trade is more often than not a prelude to a disastrous presidency. The less experience in business, the better the president.
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.
At Bain Capital, Romney as C.E.O. practiced a very Darwinian form of capitalism for 14 years; he points to his time there as a model for how he would turn around the American economy. But it’s clear that enriching a handful of shareholders often has very little to do with job creation. The point of private equity, after all, is to make deals that turn investments into profits — nothing more. In that realm, Romney has succeeded.
Once he moved from running Bain to running the Bay State, Romney was a failure at job creation. His state ranked 47th. Job growth nationwide, even under the sluggish economy of George W. Bush, was five times higher than it was in the Massachusetts run by Romney from 2003 to 2007. This was reflected in his approval ratings — 34 percent in the last full year of his term, making him one of the most unpopular governors in the country, ranked 48 out of 50.
The biggest job creator of modern times, Bill Clinton, wouldn’t know a spreadsheet from a cooked derivative. His business experience was nil, but he had governing smarts, and his instincts were usually right. Under Clinton’s watch, the United States added 23 million new jobs — this after he raised “job-killing” taxes on the rich.
Romney never mentions Clinton’s formula for prosperity, or that of Franklin Roosevelt, the other business-challenged president who took the American economy to new highs. Roosevelt had been through a traumatic life experience, the diagnosis of polio, that made him a man of resolve, with empathy for the average person.
“If you spent two years in bed trying to wiggle your toes, after that anything would seem easy,” said Roosevelt. When he ran for president in 1932, his theme was “the forgotten man.”
Romney has shown a strange tendency to fetishize wealth, from his belief that “corporations are people” to his boasting of how many Cadillacs his wife drives. His European role model would have to be Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s richest man. A media tycoon, the Rupert Murdoch of his country, Berlusconi was laughably bad as a three-time prime minister.
The verdict is still out on Barack Obama, the community organizer, lawyer and writer. Because he got hit with the Bush hangover, his overall job numbers show a net loss of about 850,000, from January 2009 to the present. But if you start a year into his presidency, Obama has added almost four million jobs.
We aren’t electing a C.E.O. to occupy the White House. We’re looking for good judgment, broad life experience, flashes of wisdom. Still, for those who insist on making business the bottom line in who they pick, the past is indeed predictive.
By: Timothy Egan, The New York Times, May 31, 2012
Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly boasted the other day that he enjoys “more power than anybody other than the president.”
Apparently, though, this rather extraordinary degree of influence over national affairs isn’t quite enough for the conservative media personality. In fact, O’Reilly is so concerned about his potential tax burden under the “Buffett Rule,” he told his television audience last night he might just quit working altogether.
“I must tell you I want the feds to get more revenue. I don’t want to starve them as some people do. We need a robust military, a good transportation system and protections all over the place.
“But if you tax achievement, some of the achievers are going to pack it in. Again, let’s take me. My corporations employ scores of people. They depend on me to do what I do so they can make a nice salary. If Barack Obama begins taxing me more than 50 percent, which is very possible, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this. I like my job but there comes a point when taxation becomes oppressive. Is the country really entitled to half a person’s income?”
In case anyone’s interested in the relevant details, let’s clarify a few things.
First, we don’t know if President Obama is eyeing a top rate of 50%, and even if he did, the likelihood of congressional passage would be roughly zero.
Second, a top rate of 50% does not mean O’Reilly would lose “half” his income. I know this can seem a little complicated, but that’s just not how marginal tax rates work.
And third, a 50% top rate for millionaires and billionaires would be a departure from the recent past, but to describe it as “oppressive” is to forget much of the 20th century.
In Ronald Reagan’s first term, for example, the top rate was — you guessed it — 50%. Did Reagan’s “oppressive” tax rates prevent robust economic growth? Did “the achievers” decide to “pack it in”? No and no.
For nearly all of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, the top rate was 91%. That’s not a typo. Did this Republican president’s “oppressive” tax policy prevent the U.S. economy from growing in the 1950s? Apparently not.
That said, if O’Reilly is contemplating retirement to avoid helping America pay its bills, I’m not inclined to discourage him.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 20, 2011