2 reasons why Mitt Romney’s business experience means squat

1. Herbert Hoover. 2. George W. Bush.

You didn’t think I’d bury the lead, did you? Now, I suppose I could have ended this blog post right there. Maybe link Hoover’s name to a picture of hobos lining up for soup and bread and Bush’s to a video of Charles Koch’s Croatian manservant beating an orphan to death with an ivory serving spoon manufactured overseas by somewhat less fortunate orphans. (Oh, you know that exists somewhere.) But it’s more fun – and more irritating to Republicans – to pile on.

It’s become an article of faith among GOPsters that business experience is not just an advantage when it comes to governing but should be something of a prerequisite. Mitt Romney has seized on both these fallacies, claiming that he is uniquely qualified to steer our economy back on course and that anyone whose mettle has not been forged in the crucible of free-market capitalism simply can’t get the job done.

Amazingly, Romney has even hinted that business experience should be one of the qualifications for office spelled out in the Constitution – along with a minimum age and the ability to fool everyone but Donald Trump into believing that you weren’t born in a yurt on a Kenyan socialist re-education farm:

“I was speaking with one of these business owners who owns a couple of restaurants in town,” said Romney at a campaign rally in May. “And he said, You know I’d like to change the Constitution, I’m not sure I can do it,’ he said. ‘I’d like to have a provision in the Constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birthplace of the president being set by the Constitution, I’d like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States.’ You see, then he or she would understand that the policies they’re putting in place have to encourage small business, make it easier for business to grow.”

Of course, such a provision would have eliminated Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and even Ronald Reagan, the career actor.

Among those who would have come to office with sterling credentials?

Herbert Hoover, who presided over his own engineering firm and the start of the Great Depression. Jimmy Carter, who ran his family’s peanut farm. George H.W. Bush, a career oil man. And, of course, George W. Bush, entrepreneur and, more recently, inventor of the invisibility cloak and amnesia ray.

Of course, like a lot of persistent Republican myths (e.g., that high taxes on the wealthy kill jobs and the economy or that Newt Gingrich doesn’t want to eat your children), this one just won’t die. Now, you can forgive people for forgetting about Hoover, but just 12 short years ago, George W. Bush ran a campaign that was eerily similar to Romney’s, saying that his business experience made him the ideal choice to guide the economy into the new millennium.

In fact, Bush – who, like Romney, came from a wealthy, politically connected family – once said while campaigning against Al Gore, “I understand small business growth. I was one.” (America, you have no one to blame but yourselves.)


Then again, Bush – like Hoover and Carter – at least tried to earn money the old-fashioned way, by producing something people wanted. Romney? Well, here’s David Stockman, a former Republican congressman and key advisor to Ronald Reagan, on Romney’s business experience:

“Mitt Romney was not a businessman; he was a master financial speculator who bought, sold, flipped, and stripped businesses. He did not build enterprises the old-fashioned way – out of inspiration, perspiration, and a long slog in the free market fostering a new product, service, or process of production. Instead, he spent his 15 years raising debt in prodigious amounts on Wall Street so that Bain could purchase the pots and pans and castoffs of corporate America, leverage them to the hilt, gussy them up as reborn ‘roll-ups,’ and then deliver them back to Wall Street for resale – the faster the better.

“That is the modus operandi of the leveraged-buyout business, and in an honest free-market economy, there wouldn’t be much scope for it because it creates little of economic value.”

Now, none of this should be interpreted as an attack on businesspeople. Romney is right when he gives the credit to entrepreneurs and innovators for creating our prosperity. And the argument that a life spent in the private sector ought to prepare one for a life in public service sure seems like a compelling one. It’s just not backed up by evidence. If anything, there’s a strong inverse relationship between one’s business experience and one’s success in government.

And Romney, who spent much of his time at Bain Capital eliminating jobs while piling debt onto companies’ balance sheets, hardly seems like the standard-bearer for responsible economic stewardship. So what, exactly, is the man talking about?

As Bill Clinton pointed out in his rousing Democratic National Convention speech, recent history shows that Democrats are more effective job creators than Republicans. Unlike Romney’s claim that he knows how to create jobs because he’s amassed a large personal fortune, that’s a statistic that actually has some real-world relevance. Maybe we should pay more attention to actual history than Mitt’s fevered imagination.

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