This presidential race has produced a lot of talk about the need for an experienced businessman to restore our economy and jobs. Mitt Romney and Herman Cain both claimed to be that businessman, each touting his success in turning around one or more failed businesses, putting people back to work, and making America just a little better for their leadership. I can’t count the number of people who have argued with me that running the country is no different than running a successful business. Really? (I don’t intend this discussion to encompass whether we need to balance the budget, a different subject for perhaps a different day.)
There are different varieties of leadership, although there may be some common denominators. But there are also huge differences that don’t readily transfer from one sector to another. A military officer can give an order that must be obeyed and carried out. A CEO or president of a company has a board that he answers to, but for the most part they are given free rein to make decisions as long as the company is profitable and growing. Political leaders---mayors, governors, and presidents among them operate in a very different realm. When candidates Cain and Romney tell the voters that they will do this or that when they are elected, and in some instances as soon as their first day in office, they can’t be serious. There are 535 elected representatives in Congress, and each one answers to their own constituency, which isn’t necessarily the president’s. I doubt that a Republican congressman representing a district in Manhattan or Brooklyn cares very much about a Republican president’s efforts to get an agricultural subsidy bill passed. But we also know that in order for anything to get done in Washington, our elected representatives and the president make all sorts of bargains. A president has to have a whole different set of leadership skills to get his proposed legislation through Congress. President Eisenhower reportedly expressed frustration that he had less authority than he did as a five start general.
One question I haven’t heard come up during the debates is how each candidate proposes to get majorities to vote for and support their various agendas. We have heard a lot of tough talk, but I would be interested in knowing how a new president plans to persuade the people whose vote and support he needs, knowing that each representative probably has his own agenda based on the district, state or region that he represents or that has common interests. If we had a totalitarian government this wouldn’t be an issue. Despite the messiness and frustrations of our system, we should all hope that we never lose it to something that superficially sounds more efficient.