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.
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By that measure, Harry Truman was truly worthless. Investing $15,000 in a men’s clothing store in Kansas City, he lost about twice that sum and closed the store after just two years. He also tried his hand in oil drilling but failed to locate a profitable well; if he had succeeded, Truman later reflected, he would never have entered politics.Skip to next paragraph
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The next two businessmen-presidents, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, were much better at business than Harry Truman; but by most accounts, they were much worse presidents, though each had notable foreign policy triumphs. Mr. Carter actually started his own side enterprise at the ripe age of five, hawking boiled peanuts from his father’s farm on the streets of Plains, Georgia.
By the time he was nine, Carter was already speculating in cotton bales; soon after that, he started acquiring rental properties. He eventually diversified the family farm into a million-dollar-a-year business, selling fertilizer and insurance as well as peanuts.
Like Truman, meanwhile, George H.W. Bush went into the oil business; but unlike Truman, Bush actually struck oil. Starting in Texas, where his company dug 127 wells, Mr. Bush pioneered offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. By the time he was 30, he was a millionaire.
His son’s business career was more checkered, buoyed by the family name as much as anything else. George W. Bush lost nearly a million dollars in an oil venture but was bailed out by another company, which enlisted him as a consultant to land lucrative drilling contracts in the Middle East. He had more success as co-owner of the Texas Rangers, earning $15 million in profits when he sold his share of the team in 1998.
But even many Republicans now rank George W. Bush as a middling-to-poor president. In a recent Gallup poll, just 46 percent of GOP respondents gave him a positive rating. That’s why the Republicans kept him under wraps at their convention.
But the Democrats made another ex-president their keynote speaker! Bill Clinton wasn’t a businessman, but he turned out to be a pretty darned good politician. So whatever you think of Barack Obama, it’s time to stop harping on his lack of entrepreneurial experience. Ronald Reagan didn’t build businesses, either, but 90 percent of Republicans regard him favorably. Go figure.
Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).