Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney touted his record as a businessman on Monday as he sought to stem the momentum of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who entered the presidential race Saturday...
Though he did not mention Perry by name, Romney appeared eager to contrast his background, including more than two decades in the private sector, with that of the Texas governor, who has been in state politics since 1984."I have the credibility to talk about the economy in a way that nobody else on that stage will," he said. "I will not need a primer on how the economy works."At a campaign stop earlier in the day, Romney said that "having worked in the real economy" was essential to be in the White House.
I'm not sold.
Romney's argument relies on the listener equating experience in private industry with economic policy acumen. Were there a strong correlation there, Jon Corzine would have been one of the best governors in New Jersey history and Hank Paulson would have gone down as one of the nation's great treasury secretaries.
This isn't to totally dismiss the argument out of hand. Perhaps we can at least deduce that, having been a captain of industry, Romney is sensitive to the notion that government intervention in the private sector actually comes with costs, a fact of which the current White House seems stunningly ignorant. That's a serviceable floor for a GOP presidential candidate, but a very weak ceiling.
As we discussed on the most recent "Young Guns" podcast, the ideal presidential candidate marries the right policy instincts with suitable executive skills. Sufficient scrutiny of a figure who comes out of the business world should give us pause on both fronts.
When it comes to policy, it's important to remember that much of modern big business is rent-seeking. That's troubling to those of us who believe a conservative president should be pro-market, not necessarily pro-business. This difference isn't semantic. It means fewer regulations, not regulations more favorable to corporate allies. It means flatter taxes, not a tax code riddled with deductions and credits for well-connected industries. And it means having government clear private industry's way, not hold its hand.
There's also a question of executive temperament. Managing a private business is a much different task than managing the federal government. In the latter case, authority flows from the top down. A corporate head can essentially act as a dictator, with the only restrictions being those imposed by a board of directors. A president, on the other hand, has to deal with a legislative branch that's often adversarial, an entrenched bureaucracy that often ignores him, and a federal judiciary that will rein in his excesses. With those kinds of cross-currents, being a university dean may actually be more adequate preparation than being a Fortune 500 CEO.
Thus Romney's resume alone doesn't answer either of the two most important questions about his potential presidential style: will he push for the right policies and will he have the ability to see them enacted into law? What should be of greatest concern to him is this: those answers are a lot clearer when the questions are asked of Rick Perry.