Saturday, October 27, 2012

More CEO's for President

So, now that we are on the subject of CEO's for President, how does Mitt Romney compare with other candidates.

Herbert Hoover

I will start with Hoover.  Romney's big disadvantage compared to Hoover is that he lacks Hoover's international experience and prestige.  Furthermore, since the US is the world's only superpower, foreign policy is more important now than it was in Hoover's day.

In terms of administrative competence, no doubt Romney has it, but Hoover would be a tough act to match.  Besides, Romney has a disadvantage in that regard.  Hoover favored administrative competence in general, either in the private or the public sector.  Romney belongs to a party that is opposed on principle to administrative competence in government (at least in its mommy functions).  For anyone, even a Republican President, to display administrative competence in government would be ideologically threatening to many of today's Republicans.

On the other hand, if the Hoover Administration proved one thing, it was that it takes more than administrative competence to make a successful President.  Some have suggested that Hoover's failures were because he never learned to be a politician.  But I am unconvinced.  The only way to know how many of Hoover's failing were the result of poor political skills, one would have to see him as President under more normal circumstances.  That option is not available to us.  I believe that Hoover's failure was the result, not of poor political skills, but of a conventional wisdom that forced him into taking harmful actions.

Either way, Romney has the advantage here.  Unlike Hoover, he had been chief executive of a government as well as a business.  While some in the Massachusetts legislature complained* that he had an autocratic CEO style, he was able to work with them and did get a good taste of what running a government is like.

Furthermore, although the conventional wisdom of the 1930's is all too strong today, it is by no means as unanimous.  And Romney may not be captive to it.  He has sometimes sounded suspiciously Keynesian, and has also hinted that he may favor monetary expansion.  I suppose it will all depend on how much power he gives Paul Ryan.  (More on that in a later post).

Ross Perot

Ross Perot ran for President in 1992, campaigning mostly on the budget deficit, and later founded the Reform Party.  Although I briefly considered voting for him, I decided against it, at least in part because he showed alarmingly autocratic tendencies.**  The most popular joke about his was that he would be in for a rude surprise when he found out that the President couldn't fire Congress.  But jokes of that sort are usually not really jokes.  He really did seem to favor some sort of elective dictatorship and to lack patience with the delays and inconveniences of democracy.

Worse yet, he started making bizarre rants about the Republicans wiretapping his office and seeking to disrupt his daughter's wedding and circulate doctored photographs of her.  As his accusations took on a greater and greater air of outright clinical paranoia, one-times supporters increasingly abandoned him.  Favoring an elective dictatorship was one thing; having a dictator of dubious sanity was another.

Romney certainly comes in ahead of Perot.  As a former state governor, he understands and (presumably) accepts how democratic government works.  And he shows no sign of mental derangement.  But then again, saying that Romney would make a better President than Perot because he is neither a dictator nor insane is not setting the bar very high.

Herman Cain

I have discussed Herman Cain before.  Insofar as he showed none of Perot's disturbing authoritarianism or signs of paranoia, Cain was preferable.  He was, however, totally unqualified to be President.  He was completely clueless about foreign policy and not a good enough politician to understand all the proper cultural cues the Republican base demanded.  But Cain's most serious problem was that he gave no evidence of understanding that running a government is any different from running a business.  He did not appear to understand, as this commentator puts it, that running a business is about, "dedication to the narrow welfare of one firm or economic sector" is totally unlike being President, which calls for "reconciling competing interests and voter blocs for the purpose of advancing a semblance of the common, national good. "  I hold out some hope that Romney does understand the distinction.

Donald Trump

I understand the unanimous, trans-partisan and trans-ideological desire to forget that Donald Trump ever sought to be President.  The mere thought of such a thing is enough to make me want to wash out my brain with bleach.  Fortunately, there was no actual danger of such a thing ever coming to pass.  I will make one comment on Donald Trump's brief candidacy.  To many of the Republican base, obnoxiousness is the most important quality in a leader.  They equate obnoxiousness with firm and unyielding principle.  So I guess is that if you regard obnoxiousness as the prime qualification in a leader, then Trump is perfect.  Otherwise, I can't think of a single good thing to say about him.


Comparing CEO candidates for President, Mitt Romney is way out in front of the pack.  Then again, I would put the disastrous Hoover second.  Romney has better recession-fighting tools at hand than Hoover did and is less likely to be captive to dangerous conventional wisdom.  It is, of course, hard to tell what Romney would actually do or attempt to do once in office.  But I believe we are sufficiently out of danger that even if he gives Paul Ryan a free reign, the damage should be considerably less disastrous than what Hoover witnessed.  And I am reasonably optimistic that Romney would not do anything too self-destructive.  I do give Hoover the advantage in foreign policy, but I suppose we will muddle through.

Distantly trailing Romney and Hoover is Herman Cain who, although unqualified and prone to disastrous policies, is sane and appears to respect democratic norms.  Distantly behind him is mad autocrat Perot.  And bringing up the rear is Donald Trump, who we will all pretend is not there.

*Can't find link.
**One of the reasons Ron Paul makes me so uneasy is that he reminds me too much of Ross Perot.


  1. You left out George W. Bush, who campaigned in part on his CEO experience. Like Romney, he had both private sector and public sector leadership experience. Of course he was a much less effective private sector leader than Romney, which probably gives Romney an advantage. But again, being better than George W. Bush is a pretty low bar.

  2. Let's just say that Romney has the advantage over GWB that the public is war weary, so starting a stupid, pointless war is less likely to be popular.