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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.

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Reagan also possessed a crucial quality that seems to be habitually absent from single-minded CEOs: He really liked people and could charm the bark off a tree. Elected public servants have symbiotic relationships with the citizenry, and they know how to read polls and the public pulse.

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Two-hundred-fifty million Americans thought they knew Reagan – whether they did or not. Many were certain he liked and cared about people. He touched Americans in ways few corporate executives were ever able to, reaching out and touching those outside the corporate boardroom.

A CEO who finds disloyalty cuts off its head, not an option always available to elected officials in government. A US president has to work with adversaries, forcing him to be an accommodator or a horse trader. From Day 1, Mr. Obama has had to work with a Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, who has vowed his sole mission is to make sure Obama is a one-term president.

Like Reagan, Obama would have made a questionable corporate CEO, and like Reagan, his political decisionmaking is worth studying.

Many conservatives wanted to allow a bankrupt General Motors to go under. But Obama, more skilled in politics than capitalism, bailed out GM. Now, born-again General Motors is once more the world’s largest automaker, selling 9 million vehicles, outpacing even Toyota.

Presidents have to make tough, life-and-death decisions that go beyond a financial statement. Commander in chief Obama has several times overruled Pentagon brass. For instance, when Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s forces were poised to massacre the city of Benghazi, Obama interceded. He joined a NATO coalition preventing the feared Benghazi bloodbath, ultimately deposing an Arab despot, without the loss of a single American life.

Despite others’ hesitation, a gutsy Obama also ordered a Navy SEAL team to take out another mass murderer, Osama bin Laden.

Obama may seem a disappointment to many who voted for him, but in three years it has become clear he thinks through his decisions, beyond profit and loss statements. And to his credit, he also seems to consider all points of view.

At a time when corporate power in this country is greater than at any point since the 1880s and ’90s, America requires leaders with careers heavy in public service rather than CEOs. I suspect there are hundreds of CEOs who believe they are better qualified to be president than either the Republican candidates or Obama. But why elect a fox to guard the chicken coop after the worst economic recession since the 1930s?

Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.


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