Political Animal


May 07, 2012 2:35 PM Auto-President

By Ed Kilgore

In a fine rant for TAP about Mitt Romney’s relative success in convincing people that his private-sector experience will make him a “Mr. Fix-It” for the U.S. economy, Paul Waldman hits on a pretty important point:

Romney does have a lengthy economic plan, but it amounts to the same thing Republicans always advocate: tax cuts, particularly on the wealthy; spending cuts in domestic programs; eliminating regulations; free trade; undermining labor unions, and so on. The closest thing to an innovative idea is the creation of a “Reagan Economic Zone,” which presumably will create wealth through the repeated incantation of the great one’s name.
Which is just the point: if Mitt Romney’s experience in private equity gives him such unique understanding of the economy, why is what he proposes exactly what you’d hear from any Republican who spent his working life in government? It’s partly because Romney is a Republican, and things like tax cuts and reductions in regulation are just what Republicans believe. But maybe it’s also because when it comes to the things government can do to affect the economy, being a businessman doesn’t give you such special insight after all.

Waldman made a similar argument back in 2010 when California was being bombarded with ads from Carly Fiorina and (especially) Meg Whitman touting their business experience as being their top credentials for statewide office.

Ultimately, such “I know the economy” claims usually come down to little more than a personal character reference: I’ve succeeded in one area of life, and so you should trust me to succeed in another. As Waldman notes, you can undermine such claims in different ways:

[You can] comb through Romney’s career and figure out what combination of attacks will create a negative association in the public’s mind when the words “Romney” and “business” are mentioned together. Maybe the key will be his personal wealth and hilarious habit of saying things that reinforce his distance from the struggles of ordinary people, or maybe it will be stories of layoffs at companies Bain Capital acquired, or maybe it will be some new story we haven’t yet heard of.

But ultimately, the argument that corporate titans know more about government policies that might strengthen the economy than anyone else needs a direct hit. If, as appears to be the case with Romney, said titans are essentially arguing that there is no positive government role in the economy and that all his brilliance and experience will be brought to bear on the task of “getting government out of the way” as quickly as possible, why not just elevate a laptop to the presidency, running the best available destroy-the-government software available from conservative think tanks? Mitt’s detractors often mock him as a robot or a cyborg based on his peculiar personality and/or his apparent lack of inhibition about doing absolutely anything it takes to curry favor with today’s voters even if it contradicts what he was saying yesterday. But there’s a more basic point to be made that any fool, or any machine, can implement Romney’s economic platform. As I’ve noted earlier, if he gets a Republican-controlled Congress, a President Romney could whip through his agenda in less than 100 days.

So perhaps Mitt should be asked as often as possible: what will you do as president to revive the economy that anyone with a copy of your platform—or the Ryan budget—could do? Aren’t your talents more suited to being a “job-creator” than a government-destroyer? Give us just one example of something you learned at Bain that the rest of us don’t know, that would create jobs, okay, Mitt?

Don’t know if this sort of line of inquiry would turn votes, but it would sure get under his skin, or his case, or whatever it is that holds him together.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Hedda Peraz on May 07, 2012 2:49 PM:

    These Biz Tycoons that run for office confuse the presidency with Emperor of the World.

    CEO's say "make it so", and minions make it happen. When the President says it, Congress replies, "Not so fast!"

  • Ron Byers on May 07, 2012 2:53 PM:

    Who actually believes Romney is "Mr. Fix It" for the economy? Anybody? My guess is that very, very few people actually believe he is anything other than a very manuverable pander monkey. When has he ever shown spine.

  • dalloway on May 07, 2012 3:05 PM:

    Well, Mitt doesn't actually have to propose anything. He doesn't need a plan because it's his turn, for pete's sake. Don't you dirty, hippies know he's the next rich, entitled white guy in line to be president? Sheesh.

  • jjm on May 07, 2012 3:16 PM:

    I LOVE the "might as well elevate a laptop to the presidency" ...

    Perfect description of Mitt, who has less brainpower and personality than a laptop...

  • N.Wells on May 07, 2012 3:34 PM:

    Mitt's business expertise consists primarily of vulture capitalism / asset-stripping, or burdening your victim with debt to pay for getting mugged, and grabbing infrastructure and pension funds for private gain. An orgy of private looting of public wealth is exactly what the 1% is hoping for. For his abilities at job creation, note that employment tanked nationally when Republicans last got their way, and also note that Massachusetts came in 47th in job creation under Romney. This is not the expertise that America needs.

  • boatboy_srq on May 07, 2012 4:02 PM:


    Somebody needs to cover Pet Shop Boys' "Shopping" for this election cycle.

  • Upper West on May 07, 2012 4:03 PM:

    "what will you do as president to revive the economy that anyone with a copy of your platform—or the Ryan budget—could do?"

    Don't you mean "anyone with a copy of your platform - or the Ryan budget - 'couldn't do'"

  • Rick Massimo on May 07, 2012 4:31 PM:

    "... why not just elevate a laptop to the presidency, running the best available destroy-the-government software available from conservative think tanks?"

    Of course, Grover Norquist, who really runs the Republican Party despite the fact that he has never even tried to be elected to anything, has already said quite explicitly that "we just need someone to sign" the Ryan budget.

  • Mimikatz on May 07, 2012 4:47 PM:

    Focus on his experience rescuing the Salt Lake City Olympics at the expense of the American taxpayer. What many CEOs are good at (think Cheney at Halliburton, Welch at GE and the banister CEOs) is getting money from the gov't or getting some loophole that gives em a leg up on the competition. Business is in many ways a zero sum game--one company gains market share at the expense of some others--but running the gov't should emphatically not be that. There must be much more focus on the general welfare, the public good. Former CEOs are generally not good at looking at the total picture because they are highly competitive and used to winning.

    Moreover, Romeny hasn't got much of a clue how the federal gov't works. His sole political experience is as head of a very small state. He is really lacking in the kind of experience Presidents need. He is pretty ignorant of foreign or military affairs.

    Obama, by contrast, had experience in the legislature of a pretty big and diverse state and 4 years in the Senate, where he got experience on nuclear proliferation, foreign and military affairs. Plus he had traveled widely and lived abroad. And now he will have been President for nearly 4 years at election time. Romney is really the untested, untried, inexperienced one here, the one we ought not take a chance on in dangerous times.

  • zandru on May 07, 2012 5:21 PM:

    Asking a "Businessman" ...

    ... how to help the economy is like asking a two year old what he wants for lunch: Candy. Candy. CANDEEEEEEEE!!

    Neither the big biz guy nor the toddler actually know what's GOOD for them.

  • Anonymous on May 07, 2012 5:35 PM:

    "George W. Bush, MBA president."

    I can't believe anyone thinks organizing a presidential campaign around the theme of "America's CEO" is really going to fly twice after the spectacular disaster we ended up with as a result of going with it the first time.

  • sparky on May 07, 2012 5:49 PM:

    Never, never,never underestimate the stupidity of the American voter. We are a country of idiots. There is not other explanation for for people who have no healthcare bitching about "Obamacare." How else can you explain anyone in the 50% of the population who doesn't even qualify to pay income taxes because they make so damn littel supporting the Ryan budget? There can be no other explanation for the tea party, a collection of bored old retirees and Vietnam era draft dodgers living on social security and medicare and bitching about welfare and Medicaid while they dance around in their three cornered hats and pretend to be patriots. Can these people possibly believe that they have anything in common with Romney?The idea that he gives even the smallest hair off the big rat's ass about them leaves me believing that our political system has sunk to a level from which it cannot recover.Well, actually it's not our political system that is mired in the quicksand of stupidity; it's our voters. If Romney gets elected the big winner will be George W.Bush because he'll look like a true rocket scientist compared to Romney.

  • T-Rex on May 07, 2012 6:02 PM:

    W. Bush made much of his MBA, and of running government like a business. Shouldn't that be the end of the discussion about the wisdom of that approach?

  • zandru on May 07, 2012 6:18 PM:

    Thanks, sparky; I really enjoyed that.

    American voters won't get any smarter until we have a news media that actually gives us the information we need to function in a democracy. News is not, and should not be thought of as a "profit center." It's time to make the CPB America's BBC.

  • rrk1 on May 07, 2012 6:22 PM:

    Romney is a blood-sucking parasite whose only goal was to make himself and others like him rich at the expense of others who had honest jobs. How that qualifies him to be anything but a pariah needs explaining.

    The mantra, "I was successful in business, therefore I can do anything, and everything should be run like a business" is pure bullshit. College presidents and hospital administrators who say their institutions should be run more like a business need to fired and exiled. Instantly.

    The tactics of corporate capitalism resemble the tactics of legalized organized crime. There is no intent to do anything positive for society, and Romney at Bain Capital has demonstrated very clearly what legalized rape, plunder, and pillage is all about.

  • cdw on May 07, 2012 7:08 PM:

    Bain Capital made/makes money buying a troubled company, borrowing millions in the company's name, sometimes turning the company around and sometimes driving it so far into debt it is patas arriba. What does that say about Romney's talent for running the government?

  • jsjiowa on May 07, 2012 7:20 PM:

    If Romney's business experience was so useful in a government setting, then why did Massachusetts rank 47th in job creation during his administration? And why were the people of Massachusetts not clamoring for him to serve a second term?

  • Prof_Turby on May 08, 2012 6:17 AM:

    Liberals want to confiscate money from well off folk and redistribute it to other folk to buy votes...
    Republicans want to lower taxes, let you keep your money, and spend it to create wealth...
    I like option two better...

  • jhm on May 08, 2012 6:36 AM:

    In re rof_Turby, the flawed idea that success in business might translate into governing acumen (or even business acumen) should, as it is employed to counter the politicians who tout it, be used also to counteract the flawed idea that underpins the movement conservative ideal which has brought successive—and successively more disastrous—economic straits.

    If we want a society, and an economy, which takes the best from the largest swath of ideas (i.e., one which will be sustainable not to mention equitable), rather that one which seeks mostly to consolidate and preserve entrenched wealth and power, this key point needs to be hammered home.

  • Mike Siroky on May 08, 2012 7:30 AM:

    "Maybe the key will be his personal wealth and hilarious habit of saying things that reinforce his distance from the struggles of ordinary people,"

    John Forbes Kerry is 15 times as wealthy as Mitt Romney and as stiff as a board. His ability to relate to ordinary people is exactly zero. Didn't stop anyone here from voting for him, did it?

  • Steve Burgess on May 08, 2012 7:45 AM:

    Mitt will sign every free trade agreement he can get his hands on. The first one will be the one with Brazil. This will let Ford fire their employees and moved down there. Ford built a billion dollar plant down there and it is waiting. This will be very good for the middle class. Next he will try to open land for drilling for oil. Some anti drilling group will file a lawsuit and he will run and hide just like Bush and sit back and make million from his oil stock. He will allow the 2.5 trillion dollars in oversea banks to be brought back here and into the pockets of his buds on wall street and that will help the middle class.

  • John Corzine on May 08, 2012 8:43 AM:

    Well, Mitt doesn't actually have to propose anything. He doesn't need a plan because it's his turn, for pete's sake. Don't you dirty, hippies know he's the next rich, entitled white guy in line to be president? Sheesh."

    Relax Mr. Geithner. Don't be angry just because you don't like his plan. However, I have a few ideas...

  • Tom Genin on May 08, 2012 8:47 AM:

    Any unemployed person left to vote for the next CEO to create a job for them, would they vote for Obama, who's never created jobs in the private sector and failed in 3 1/2 years to foster growth, or Romney who's life in business created millions of jobs without having the full force of gov't and even more money behind him?

    To the author, the gov't doesn't pick winners and losers, as we've noticed, it only picks losers. What would Romney do? I'd say foster cheap energy, open commerce between states, enforce patent rights against the Chinese, drop the corporate tax rate and capital gains to increase investment in the US, stabilize the dollar to regain it's strength as a trading commodity, get the Dept. of Labor out of Gibson Guitar, Boeing, and every other non-sensical business crushing move they're in, re-write the tax code to keep profits made in the US be paid in the US, maybe even a flat tax saving Billions of wasted man-hours, etc. etc. etc.

    In short, the right believes, and understands that the Creation of Wealth is what lifts us all up. Whereas the left hates the creation of wealth, which is known a Depression.

  • esaud on May 08, 2012 9:02 AM:

    The trouble with a lot of MBA-type CEO's is that they can't read. They need to have everything condensed into an executive summary, or boiled down into a few power point phrases, or reduced to a five minute oral presentation. GWB used to pride himself on being the decider, but his autobiography (ironically called "Decision Points") shows that he jumped to conclusions on little or no information, and once he made up his mind, he was closed to hearing anything else. He was easily manipulated by the people doing the summarizong for him.

    Clinton's autobiography shows hom to be the opposite. He would digest huge amounts of written material on all sorts of angles (historical, economic, scientific) before making up his mind.

  • Sloop on May 08, 2012 9:03 AM:

    Mike Siroky on May 08, 2012 7:30 AM:

    He also pahks his yacht in Providence Yahd.

  • Lloyd Blankfein on May 08, 2012 9:14 AM:

    "His policies are based on nothing more than buying votes."

    Wrong. We buy him, cheap. See?