Not true, Mitt Romney: History shows business experience doesn't make a good president
Mitt Romney has derided President Obama for lacking the business experience he claimed as 'essential to his task.' That's a popular GOP message, but it's not true. America's best-rated presidents weren't businessmen, and those with the most business success rank among the worst.
Good presidents need experience in the business world, right? Wrong. Of all the GOP’s campaign-season talking points, this one is the easiest to debunk.Skip to next paragraph
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The assumption was on vivid display at last week’s Republican National Convention, where nominee Mitt Romney – a former private equity manager – contrasted his resume to President Obama’s. “He took office without the most basic qualification that most Americans have and one that was essential to his task,” Romney said, criticizing Mr. Obama. “He had almost no experience working in a business.”
But it’s simply false to say that a business background is “essential” to succeeding as a president. Since 1900, only five of our 20 presidents had significant business experience when they entered the White House: Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and the two Bushes.
Notably missing are the figures whom Americans routinely identify as the best 20th-century presidents: Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. Of the businessmen-presidents, indeed, only Truman usually makes it into pollsters’ Top Ten. And he was the worst businessman of the lot.
The best one was surely Hoover, who remains a symbol of presidential ineptitude for his ham-handed reaction to the 1929 stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression. Before that, however, he made millions in the global mining industry. A peripatetic traveler, he moved from Australia to China to England in search of better opportunities.
He found them, too. Logging over 5,000 miles across the Australian bush in a quest for gold, he acquired a $1 million mine that would generate $65 million for his company. In a passage that could be lifted from a Mitt Romney speech, Hoover later recalled the “sheer joy” of “creating productive enterprises” during these early years.
And like Romney, who often closed or downsized unprofitable enterprises that he acquired while at Bain Capital, Hoover often let people go in the service of the bottom line. In Australia, when some of his workers went on strike, he boasted about firing them and importing Italian laborers to take their place. He was more upset about dismissing a 72-year-old accountant on his staff, Hoover wrote to a friend, “but I have to get things in shape for the company.”
And so he did. By the time he got to London, where he assumed a top position in the firm at the age of 27, a newspaper called Hoover “the highest salaried man of his years in the world.” At age 33 he went into business on his own, earning even more. “If a man has not made a million dollars by the time he is forty,” Hoover said, “he is not worth much.”