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Walter Rodgers

A CEO as US president? America is not a business, Mitt Romney.

Romney was a one-term governor, but he is surely the 24-carat chief executive officer. There are huge differences in skills required to be a successful CEO and a president of the United States. Presidents, for example, have to make life-and-death decisions that go beyond spreadsheets.

By Walter Rodgers / January 31, 2012

Campaigning in Florida on the day before the primary, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shakes hands at Ring Power Lift Trucks in Jacksonville Jan. 30. While a CEO can fire disloyal employees, in politics, you have to work with your adversaries.

AP Photo/Florida Times-Union, Bruce Lipsky

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A photo of Mitt Romney splashed across the cover of a recent Economist under the title “America’s next CEO” was a bit unsettling. Not because Mr. Romney isn’t qualified to be president, but because America’s main need is for a public servant, not a corporate executive.

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For the most part, Americans have favored candidates with a career in public service – sometimes electing soldiers but often voting for lawyers who went on to hold public office.

Romney has served as a one-term governor of Massachusetts. But he is surely the 24-carat chief executive officer.

And yet there are huge differences in the skills required to be a successful CEO and the talents demanded of a president of the United States.

Business acumen does not magically translate into skillful management of the US economy. Recall, George W. Bush was touted as America’s first president with an MBA. Now, according to a January Washington Post/ABC News poll, 54 percent of Americans believe the current economic problems are Mr. Bush’s fault while only 29 percent blame President Obama.

In truth, the Great Recession has a long history, but Bush greatly exacerbated the problem with lax oversight of the financial sector and business-as-usual at mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And he boosted America’s debt with unpaid wars and an unfunded prescription drug benefit.

CEOs tend to be single-minded people who clear mine fields. The mines they want cleared are taxes and government regulations. The last thing a successful CEO wants is any oversight of Wall Street.

Business moguls generally have scant public records. Their jobs require little sense of civic virtue – the obligation to seek the public good and habitually act rightly. By contrast, the CEO’s culture tends to be draconically secretive. The CEO thinks his tax return is not in the public domain. The politician knows that not even his sex life is off limits.

A friend who votes Republican more often than not said, “To a CEO, all life is reduced to the abstract, if not the amoral, collecting information, then going down the road to bigger profit, a world in which all issues are reduced to spreadsheets.”

Ronald Reagan would have made a lousy CEO. He was once accused of practicing “voodoo economics.” But the gavotte he performed with Mikhail Gorbachev, reducing superpower arsenals and hastening the end of the cold war, could only have been performed by a brilliant actor, with a great supporting cast.

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