Commentary: Why Businessmen Make Lousy Presidents

Keith Boykin

Commentary: Why Businessmen Make Lousy Presidents

Who is Mitt Romney trying to fool? If his business experience didn't work in Massachusetts, why would we think it would work for America?

Published June 8, 2012

Ever since Mitt Romney became the presumptive GOP nominee last month, Republicans have been arguing that America needs a businessman to be president to guide us through difficult economic times.

As a former executive at Bain Capital, Romney is just the guy, they argue. Romney has even proposed a constitutional amendment that a candidate "has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president." But Republicans will have to hire a truckload of government construction workers to patch up all the holes in that self-serving argument.

The last businessman to be elected president was George W. Bush, a former oil executive and baseball team owner, and his policies led us directly into the 2008 financial collapse and the Great Recession. Before that, the last other major businessman to be elected was another Republican, Herbert Hoover, who led us into the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression itself.

On the other hand, the last time America balanced its budget, paid down its deficit, and created millions of new jobs was under Bill Clinton. With Clinton's policies, we balanced the budget four times, created 22 million new jobs, and enjoyed the longest peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history. Clinton did this by raising the top marginal tax rate to 39.6 percent, the same rate that President Obama wants to restore but Republicans have fiercely opposed.

And here's the kicker. Clinton served virtually his entire adult life in government and never worked a day in business.

Yes, business leaders do help to provide valuable goods and services to our economy, but that doesn't qualify them to lead our government. In fact, hiring a businessman to create jobs is a little like hiring a prostitute to fight vice. Businesses don't exist to create jobs; they exist to create profit. If they can create profit by hiring people, they will. But if they can create profit by firing people, they will do that too. The goal is to make money, not to make employees.

Enter Willard Mitt Romney, the son of a successful business executive who grew up to become a businessman himself. Romney argues he can fix the economy and create jobs because he learned how to do that in the business world.

Of course we're supposed to forget that Romney's "creative destruction" business model was often willing to lay off thousands of workers to make a buck for investors.  But even if you ignore Romney's record at Bain Capital, there's better evidence that his economic policies won't work: He failed in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states in job creation under Gov. Mitt Romney.

Republicans respond that Romney "inherited" an economic crisis in his state and faced a difficult legislature. And they say it's not fair to count the job losses in his state during his first year as governor.

Funny, where have I heard that before? Oh right, from President Obama. If you discount the first year of Obama's term in office when the economy was losing nearly 750,000 jobs a month, the president's jobs record is stellar. We've had 27 consecutive months of private sector job growth and created 4.3 million new jobs.

Obama inherited an economy far worse than anything Gov. Romney saw in Massachusetts and he's turned it around, even while working with a hostile Congress who have tried to obstruct almost every element of his jobs plan for the past two years. But Romney still blames Obama for job losses that took place under the Bush recession.  

And now Romney's pushing a federal plan that would force America to lay off teachers, firefighters, police officers and construction workers to give tax cuts to his wealthy buddies, even though independent economists warn the plan "would push us deeper into recession and make the recovery slower.”

If elected president, Romney now promises he will reduce the U.S. unemployment rate to 6 percent by 2016, which on its surface sounds like a significant drop. But that number is exactly where the Congressional Budget Office estimates unemployment will be on its own in 2016. In other words, he's not offering anything better than what the economy will do naturally.

Romney's not offering much because he can't deliver much. When Romney became governor of Massachusetts in 2003, unemployment was lower than the national average. When he left office in 2007, unemployment was higher than the national average. In fact, unemployment was lower under liberal Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis than it was under Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.

Who is Mitt Romney trying to fool? If his business experience didn't work in Massachusetts, why would we think it would work for America?


Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He will also be providing political commentary for each week.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


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Written by Keith Boykin


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