No doubt about it: Mitt Romney has demonstrated that he is a highly successful business executive. He made hundreds of millions for his company when he headed Bain, and then did a competent job as the leader of the business called the Olympics. As governor of Massachusetts, he had no great ideas, but he competently administered and implemented the ideas of others—including the healthcare reform system that was the model for Obamacare (see Paul Starr’s Remedy and Reaction for details).
But while admiring Romney’s success in business, we should also remain aware of the drawbacks and baggage that expertise brings.
First and foremost, business executives are amoral and emotional—they’re taught to be that way in business school and business seminars. As Michael Corleone, the fictional leader of the mythic American family business once put it, “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” Business executives who don’t cultivate this attitude can’t lay off people, deny someone a raise, take a sneaky loophole out of a contract, shut down manufacturing facilities in one-plant towns, hotly pursue the business of despicable individuals, steal accounts from competitors, or play hardball with unions.
That’s why it’s so easy for a successful business executive such as Lou Gerstner to go from one industry to another and keep achieving business success.
What that means is that Mitt Romney will do a competent job implementing the program of whoever is pulling his strings. Kind of like Albert Speer, Hitler’s talented Nazi architect and executive. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not conflating Romney with the Nazis. That would be like labeling as a Socialist a Democrat slightly to the right of Dwight Eisenhower—say, Barack Obama.
Although it is true that Romney’s current masters want to end a woman’s right to have an abortion severely limit her access to birth control, turn back the clock on gay rights and end the teaching of science in the schools. The Nazis did believe in most if not all of these ideas,
Another thing to remember about the business executive is that the definition of success is nothing more nor less than return of maximum value to the investors. A company may pollute, create unsafe conditions for employees, pay its workers low wages and create social problems wherever it establishes operations, e.g. Walmart, and still be considered successful because the investors all get rich.
Romney is used to defining success as creating wealth for the few, and that’s exactly what you want in a business leader, even if you are enlightened enough to include the employees among the happy few. Mitt’s admitted economic program suggests that he will continue to follow that basic strategy as president.
But the objective of a country is to protect and provide opportunities for all its citizens. This idea is inherent in our important early documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And one can read the history of the United States as a great struggle to extend rights, protection and opportunities to more and more of our people.
Sometimes the issue in an election is competence. That was certainly the case in 1960 between Nixon and Kennedy, when both sides shared exactly the same foreign policy and were coalescing around the same set of ideas to address domestic challenges. The same can be said about the election of 1976 between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
But in 2012 the issue is ideology, which is a bit ironic, since one of the candidates has demonstrated that he has none. All he wants to do is do the best job he possibly can for whoever is paying the bill. In the case of Romney, it’s the extreme social and economic right, which wants to send the country back to medieval times.