The Wall Street Journal has an excellent piece by Robert R. Reilly pointing out how approaching the presidency with a corporate CEO’s mindset has and will continue to hurt Mitt Romney AND the Republican Party:
Mitt Romney points to his successful business experience as his principal qualification to be president. Others seem to agree. In a story in this newspaper after last week’s Florida Republican primary, Susan Tynan, a retired nurse, said she voted for Mr. Romney because “the biggest corporation in the world is the United States, and Mitt Romney has the best experience to run it.”
When Mr. Romney was running for president four years ago, he said in an interview that the first thing he would do in the White House would be to bring in some business consultants. In other words, Washington is a management problem.
This is a profoundly mistaken Republican notion that goes back at least to Herbert Hoover, a successful mining engineer, businessman and progressive politician who was an advocate of the “Efficiency Movement,” an attempt to manage government better. For decades the Republican Party nominated losing candidates—Alf Landon (1936), Wendell Willkie (1940), Thomas Dewey (1944 and 1948)—who presented a résumé boasting nonpolitical accomplishment in business and the professions. More recently, Republicans like Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and John McCain may have been more accomplished in the political realm but all struggled with what Bush 41 famously called the “vision thing.” Time and again, they’ve been defeated by Democrats proclaiming such things as the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society, and “hope and change.”
The Great Communicator Ronald Reagan, who spoke mostly in moral terms, was the magnificent exception. He understood that Washington is not a management problem; it is a political problem. Everything the government does is necessarily political, because governments decide not only who gets what, but why. These choices define a candidate’s politics, but they must be conceived and expressed in terms of moral priorities.
Political language is inherently moral, not managerial. It must convey visions, not just plans. It must explain why some things are good and others bad.
Instincts are never enough. You need to have thought about politics in the philosophical sense to know what is going on. I have seen businessmen in Washington with superb instincts who soon became frustrated. That is because people who have no background in either moral philosophy or rhetoric—i.e., lacking the “vision thing”—are most often left speechless when they discover that they cannot rebut attacks with management techniques.
If you cannot articulate the cause for which you are fighting in moral terms, you will lose. Because they cannot do this, businessmen suffer from a sense of illegitimacy when they come to Washington. When your opponents scent this vulnerability, they go in for the kill.Unable to deal with your opponents, you will begin to see as your enemies not those who are opposing you, but the subordinate members of your own administration who insist that you publicly carry the banner of a cause that you do not fully comprehend. On numerous occasions this has happened to high-powered businessmen (White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan, Secretary of Treasury Paul H. O’Neill) who thought they were going to shake up Washington. Instead, they were shaken up.President Obama is expert at deploying moral rhetoric. If his Republican opponent is not equally adept at this, he won’t be able to defeat him. Mr. Romney has showed no talent for this, which is hardly a surprise since little in his background has prepared him for it. He did not exhibit this ability as governor of Massachusetts, where he failed to defend the very principles he now avows regarding such things as the family, abortion and a liberal judiciary.
Mr. Romney has a tendency to treat his business autobiography as a policy prescription. The economy is the only thing in his quiver. If it keeps improving, he will be empty-handed before the Obama onslaught. Like Hoover, Mr. Romney wants to be president because he thinks he can manage things better. But my advice to any person who seeks to move American politics through his ability to succeed in business is: Stay home. It will be better for you and for your country.