The Race: The Myth that America needs a business president

Sixty years ago, what was good for General Motors was supposed to be good for America. Today, untold millions around the country fear that what was good for General Motors – the 2009 Obama Bail-out – may be ruinous for Americans.

But since good business is good for America, what could be better for America than a business president?  And Mitt Romney’s genius for business is not in doubt. He built Bain Captial up from scratch to become a $65 billion colossus – one of the world’s biggest and most successful private, alternative assets investment firms. He was also a successful governor of Massachusetts (which in fact isn’t that hard) and won election as a Republican in one of the most liberal states in the Union (which is very hard indeed). But does this track record suggest he will be a successful president?

Two of the more popular and successful presidents in America. They weren’t businessmen.

Actually, no: Not at all. The record is clear.

Who were the four most popular and successful presidents of the past century? They were Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight D., Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Two were Republicans and two were Democrats. All four easily won re-election. Ike, Reagan and Bill Clinton would easily have been re-elected to successive third terms if the 22nd amendment had not prevented them from running. Running and governing in the days before that amendment was passed FDR was elected four successive times. All of them left the United States incomparably wealthier and its people happier when they left office than when they entered it.

Yet not a single one of that Fantastic Four had ever been a businessman.

FDR’s third inauguration. One of the most successful presidents who was not a businessman. He was a life-long politician.

Franklin Roosevelt was a lifelong professional politician from a wealthy, old-money family of respected squires in upstate New York. He took pride in balancing his own check book all his life but his distaste and distrust of Big Business was visceral and lifelong. It gravely crippled and delayed America’s economic recovery from the Great Depression.

Eisenhower had a vast respect for big business and successful businessmen. But all his life he was an army bureaucrat who grew first to be a great administrator and then a soldier-diplomat and strategist of genius. No business background there either.

Ike was no businessman but certainly got the job done.

Ronald Reagan made a great career out of giving speeches about the glories of private enterprise, but he was a salaried employee all his life—first for the Hollywood studios and then for General Electric. He proved a canny, wise and subtle, remarkably successful governor of California for two terms long before he entered the White House. But while he loved businessmen, he never spent a day as one.

Bill Clinton was another lifelong professional politician: He never wanted to be anything else. Boy governor of Arkansas at the age of only 32. Defeated two years later, he won re-election in 1982 and held the job for a full decade till he won the presidency in 1992.

Three highly experienced state governors and a five star General of the Army. Not a businessman or self-made millionaire among them.

Yet four full-time, successful businessmen have been elected to the presidency over the past century. One of them truly was a stand-out success, but his business was tiny and parochial and the other three were catastrophes.

Next: Biz Presidents who failed


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