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“Wishful Thinking”: Does Business Success Make A Good President?

Mitt Romney’s chief qualification for the presidency, according to Mitt Romney, is his experience in the private sector. “[S]omeone who spent their career in the economy is more suited to help fix the economy than someone who spent his life in politics and as a community organizer,” he said in a recent interview.

But is that really true? Romney would hardly be the first man in the White House with extensive private sector experience, so we can test his claim by looking at the records of other 20th century presidents who came from business backgrounds. And those records suggest that private sector experience is by no means a guarantee of of a good president. In fact, it’s anything but.

Let’s begin at the bottom. That is where Warren Harding, president from 1921 to 1923, routinely ranks in historians’ presidential rankings. There’s little doubt Harding was a skilled businessman. After he bought an Ohio newspaper, the Marion Daily Star, and launched a weekly edition, the paper became one of the most popular in the country. Harding then profitably bumped off its rival to become the official organ for Marion’s governmental notices.

But none of that success made Harding a good president. The administration is most notable for its foreign-policy isolationism and a plethora of scandals culminating in the Teapot Dome Affair, called by one historian “the greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics” before Watergate.

Next up is Herbert Hoover, who founded the Zinc Corporation in 1905 and was a wildly successful investor, making $4 million by 1914—$92 million in today’s dollars. “If a man has not made a million dollars by the time he is forty, he is not worth much,” Hoover once said.

But like Harding, Hoover turned out to be pretty much worthless as president. His policies helped grease the skids for the 1929 stock market crash, and most historians agree that his hands-off response helped trigger the Great Depression. Indeed, the day after the crash, Hoover said, “The fundamental business of the country, that is the production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis.” His foreign policy wasn’t much better: He did little to stop the nascent Japanese aggression that would ultimately lead to Pearl Harbor. A 2010 survey ranked him as 36th of 43 presidents.

Aside from Hoover, Jimmy Carter was perhaps the most successful businessman to become president. He took over his father’s failed peanut-farming business and turned it around, making himself a wealthy man by the time he ran for Georgia’s governorship.

Again though, Carter wasn’t able to translate his peanut prowess into presidential success. Between stagflation, an energy crisis, the Iran Hostage Crisis and rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Carter was arguably the worst Democratic president of the 20th century. Indeed, despite being the sitting president, he nearly lost a primary challenge to Ted Kennedy in 1980, before being ousted from office by Ronald Reagan that fall. Carter averages 27th in the rankings.

George H. W. Bush, too, was an extremely successful businessman, working his way up from sales clerk in an oil corporation to founding his own two profitable oil companies. By the time he ran for Congress in 1966, he was a millionaire.

Bush 41 wasn’t a bad president—but neither was he a good one. His strength was foreign policy, where he skillfully wound down the Cold War and won the first Gulf War. But the economy spiraled into recession on his watch. Unable to convince Americans he knew how to fix it, Bush lost his 1992 re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

Bush’s son, George W., was less successful in the oil business. The company he founded, the aptly named Arbusto, nearly went belly-up before being sold. But he did do OK as the co-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, improving their performance and making a ton of cash. As for his presidency? Well, you know that disaster.

One other businessman-turned-president bears mention here. Harry Truman co-owned a haberdashery which went bankrupt in 1921. And yet, most historians agree Truman was a better president than any of those mentioned above. He implemented the strategy that would eventually lead to victory in the Cold War, recognized Israel, bravely avoided intervening in China, stared down Joe McCarthy, and helped usher in a period of robust and broad-based economic growth. Though unpopular when he left office, he is routinely ranked among the top 10 presidents, and has ranked as high as fifth in one scholarly survey.

None of this is to say that being a good businessman makes you a bad president, or vice versa. Whether there’s any correlation at all is hard to say, given the small size of the sample. But that’s just it. Romney’s central argument, boiled down to its essence, is that his private-sector success will necessarily translate into success in the Oval Office. And modern history tells a very different story.


By: Jordan Michael Smith, MSNBC Lean Forward, July 12, 2012

July 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shiny Objects”: Would The Right Really Care About A Pro-Choice Running Mate?

With the Drudge Report’s bombshell scoop that Condi Rice is now the veepstakes’ front-runner — which, some pundits suspect, is just the Romney campaign’s attempt at dangling a shiny object in front of the political media in an attempt to distract from the latest Bain controversy — the first reaction of many, on the right and the left, is that Rice’s pro-choice views make her inclusion on the GOP ticket impossible. Theoretically, though, it’s not impossible. Avoiding traffic jams while driving out of the city on a summer Friday afternoon is impossible. Watching the Lion King without crying during the stampede scene is impossible. A Republican presidential candidate choosing a pro-choice VP is entirely possible.

To be sure, the right would obviously prefer an all-pro-life ticket. Why not? But if it came down to it, we can’t imagine that having a pro-choicer on the ticket would hurt Romney. The vice-president doesn’t have any influence over the direction of abortion policy in this country, and everyone knows it. Rice isn’t going to appoint justices to the Supreme Court. She’s not going to sign bills or veto them. The most she could do is cast a tie-breaking vote on some kind of abortion-related legislation, and even in that infinitesimally rare scenario, it’s hard to believe she would break with her president and her entire party.

When it came down to it, the choices before conservatives would be President Obama — your standard abortion-loving and abortion-loving-judge-appointing liberal — or Mitt Romney, a pro-lifer (although, granted, not the most trustworthy one) who will appoint pro-life judges but who happens to share a ticket with some pro-choice window dressing. You’re telling us that abortion crusaders are going to stay home on Election Day and hand the infanticide-loving president four more years in the White House because Romney declined to appoint a pro-lifer to an entirely symbolic position in his cabinet? We don’t buy it.

Look no further than Sarah Palin, perhaps the most pro-life person on the planet, for proof of how easily Rice’s pro-choiceness (which isn’t even that strong to begin with) can be overlooked. “I think that Condoleezza Rice would be a wonderful vice-president,” she said on Fox News last night, while also noting that “it’s not the vice-president that would legislate abortion.”

If even Palin — who has said that she wouldn’t even want her 14-year-old daughter to abort a baby conceived through rape — is okay with Rice being on the ticket, other pro-lifers should be fine with it too.

This is not to say that we think Romney will actually pick Rice. For one thing, he already promised that he wouldn’t. Aside from that, it really comes down to two words: Bush taint. Sorry for the mental image.


By: Dan Amira, Daily Intel, July 13, 2012

July 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Another Lurch Downward”: Romney Thinks He’s Above The Level Of Accountability Required Of A Presidential Candidate

The gist of his big media interviews today is explained thus:

Mitt Romney on Friday night demanded an apology from President Obama for making what he called “reckless” and “absurd” allegations about his record while repeating his insistence that he left Bain Capital in 1999 to run the Olympics.

He then attacked the president personally:

“What kind of a president would have a campaign that says something like that about the nominee of another party?” Mr. Romney asked during a brief interview with CBS News. Earlier, on CNN, Mr. Romney called the accusation of criminal behavior — which came on Thursday from Mr. Obama’s deputy campaign manager — “disgusting” and “demeaning” and said it was destructive to the political process.

“It’s something that I think the president should take responsibility for and stop it,” Mr. Romney said.

This is another lurch downward for Romney in this cycle, I’d say. For a simple reason. We have documentary proof that Romney told the SEC he was CEO of Bain through 2002, and that he drew a salary of more than $100,000 for doing that job. So was he telling the truth on television today when he insisted that “I left any responsibility whatsoever, any effort, any involvement whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999” – or when the company he solely owned filed with the SEC, and when Bain itself called him the CEO in July 1999, and when he testified under oath in 2002 that he was involved in many business and board meetings of Bain companies in the period in question?

To put it more succinctly: how does this statement

[T]here were a number of social trips and business trips that brought me back to Massachusetts, board meetings, Thanksgiving and so forth… [I] remained on the board of the Staples Corporation and Marriott International, the LifeLike Corporation [all Bain companies]

and this excerpt from a press release from Bain in July 1999:

Bain Capital CEO W. Mitt Romney, currently on a part-time leave of absence to head the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee for the 2002 Games said …

jibe with this one today:

“I left any responsibility whatsoever, any effort, any involvement whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999 … I went on to run the Olympics for three years I was there full time after that I came back and ran in Massachusetts for governor. I had no role with regards to Bain Capital after February 1999.

and this recent statement from Bain itself, declaring Romney had:

“absolutely no involvement with the management or investment activities of the firm or with any of its portfolio companies.”

My italics. He had “no role with regards to” Bain Capital after February 1999 (a very broad statement) – except for being the CEO, and repeatedly returning to Massachusetts for board meetings of Bain-owned companies, which he “attended by telephone if I could not return”.

A false SEC filing is a serious offense; to say so is not disgusting. So is potential perjury in 2002 when Romney detailed his continued involvement in Bain-owned enterprises in the period he retained the CEO title and now says he had nothing whatsoever to do with Bain. The SEC filing rules apply to everyone – except, it seems, to Romney, and his well-paid legal and accounting team. They may have so internalized this immunity from any accountability that Romney may indeed genuinely feel disgusted by being called to follow the normal rules, or called out on logical inconsistencies.

I’m getting the feeling that Romney thinks he is above the level of accountability required in a presidential candidate or even in an average ethical businessman. He seems genuinely offended to be directly challenged with facts – which he still won’t address or rebut in detail. So he simply huffs and puffs and uses words like “disgusting” for a perfectly valid charge in the big boy world of presidential politics.

This does not seem to me to be like a candidate ready for prime time.


By: Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast, July 13, 2012

July 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Growing Inequality”: A Rich Man, Poor Man Election

Three new reports on taxes, inequality and economic mobility add up to one conclusion: The 2012 presidential election should be about one thing, and one thing only: class warfare.

Let’s start with a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, “Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility Across Generations.”

The Pew Economic Mobility Project has been tracking the economic status of thousands of families since 1968 — the data covered in the current report is through 2009. And there is some good news: Absolute income has increased for Americans of all economic classes, from the poorest to the richest. The richest Americans have seen much larger relative gains, and, naturally, are far more immune to skyrocketing healthcare and education costs than are the poor, but at least part of the American dream is still intact: Children are still earning higher incomes than their parents.

But then comes the bad news: When one measures wealth — the total assets held by families — instead of income, the picture is substantially different. As Catherine Rampell summarized in the New York Times:

The median person in the poorest quintile has a family net worth that is 63 percent less than that of his counterpart a generation ago: $2,748, versus $7,439 …

The median family in the top socioeconomic class today (i.e., the family at the 90th percentile) is worth $629,853, compared to $495,510 in the last generation. That’s a 27 percent increase in the size of the median fortune in the top income stratum.

If you’re scoring at home: Rich: richer; Poor: poorer.

Now let’s move to “Inequality and Redistribution During the Great Recession,” a research paper produced by the Minneapolis Fed.

In 2010, the bottom 20 percent of the U.S. earnings distribution was doing much worse, relative to the median, than in the entire postwar period. This is because their earnings (including wages, salaries, and business and farm income) fell by about 30 percent relative to the median over the course of the recession. This lowest quintile also did poorly in terms of wealth, which declined about 40 percent …

However, even as earnings plunged, disposable income and consumption managed to hold even, relatively speaking, for the poorest Americans as compared to other classes. This is a bit of a mystery, noted the authors, who believe it can be explained by aggressive government redistribution and tax cuts.

Our main substantive conclusion is that government redistribution in the Great Recession was at historical highs and partially shielded households from experiencing large declines in disposable income and consumption expenditures. The same households, though, have experienced losses in net wealth, and this might make them more vulnerable to further or more persistent earnings declines in the future.

If you’re still keeping score: While the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer, the Great Recession absolutely hammered the worst-off Americans, but substantial government support — unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicaid, tax cuts — saved the most vulnerable Americans from utter disaster.

And that brings us to our third report, the Congressional Budget Office’s latest numbers on federal taxes: “The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes: 2008-2009.

The bottom line: In 2009, as a result of tax cuts included in the stimulus, Americans ended up paying the lowest percentage of their income in federal taxes since 1979.

The observations included in these reports mutually reinforce each other. For example, one reason why the wealthiest Americans have done so much better than everyone else is directly related to substantial cuts in the capital gains tax rate over the past several decades. High unemployment and the collapse in home prices as a result of the Great Recession, on the other hand, have a disproportionately greater effect on poorer Americans, whose net wealth has been declining over past decades.

The numbers also beg to be put in political context. Over the long term, the rich have been getting richer and the poor poorer. In the short term, the poor took the brunt of the impact of the Great Recession, and were only kept afloat through government assistance. However, as tax rates have fallen to historic lows, it has become more and more difficult for the federal government to find the resources necessary to ameliorate widening inequality.

Now consider the fact that the Republican candidate for president wants to cut taxes even further, while eviscerating the social welfare safety net that is the only thing staving off complete economic disaster for poorer Americans. It’s class warfare all right, but one side seems to have already won.


By: Andrew Leonard, Salon, July 11, 2012

July 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Coyote Ugly”: Media Barred From Photographing Romney With Cheney

Dick Cheney hosted a fundraiser for Mitt Romney last night at his home in Wyoming. Donors paid $1,000 to attend a reception, $10,000 for a picture with Romney and $30,000 to eat dinner with Romney and Cheney in the former vice president’s home. While reporters were on hand to cover some of the events, media were not allowed to take photos of Cheney and Romney together. The Los Angeles Times explains:

Because of the unpopularity of Bush and Cheney, Romney has kept his distance — never appearing publicly with either man during his 2012 campaign. Though both leaders are admired by many in the Republican Party base, any perception of closeness with Romney could be harmful as the unofficial Republican nominee seeks to draw in independent and moderate voters.

Indeed, it seems that Romney has been playing a double game this campaign season in an effort to draw away any attention to his neocon-inspired foreign policy. In public, he either chooses to ignore national security issues or he and his advisers don’t distinguish the presumptive GOP nominee’s foreign policy from President Obama’s too much.

Behind the scenes, however, it’s quite a different story. As Bush administration Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell noted recently, Romney’s foreign policy advisers “are quite far to the right.” Many of them advocated for the Iraq war and now want war with Iran.

And the ones who want war reportedly have Romney’s ear as one top Republican operative told Reuters recently that the moderate camp inside Romney’s foreign policy team “are very concerned about the fact that if Romney needs to call anyone, his instinct is to call the Cheney-ites.” Another Romney aide, Vin Weber — who has received scrutiny for lobbying for countries with poor human rights records — told the Washington Post that “it’s inevitable” that the Bush-Cheney alumni advising Romney on foreign policy are going to “have some influence.”

Cheney praised Romney last night as the “only” candidate to make what he thinks are the right foreign policy decisions as commander-in-chief. In fact, Romney shares Cheney’s views on a number of national security issues, as Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) observed in an article in Foreign Policy yesterday: “A Romney presidency promises to take us back to something all too familiar: a Bush-Cheney doctrine — equal parts naïve and cavalier — which eagerly embraces military force without fully considering the consequences.”


By: Ben Armbruster, Think Progress, July 13, 2012

July 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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