Do big business leaders make good politicians?

In the GOP primaries two leaders of big business are running: Meg Whitman for  governor and Carly Fiorna for U.S. Senate. Their claim is that they will bring “business discipline” to politics. How’s that worked in the past?

In 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigned that his experience building his movie franchise and a real estate empire gave him what was needed to “terminate” California’s deficits and “blow up the boxes” of bureaucracy and waste. More than six years later, California is in worse shape than when he took over.

Herbert Hoover was elected president in 1932 because of his big business acumen and engineering talents. His policies brought a bad recession, then turned it into the Great Depression: protectionism, massive tax hikes, massive spending hikes, massive deficits.

Mitt Romney was a successful big businessmen, then became a disastrous governor of Massachusetts, imposing the Mittcare socialized medicine debacle on the state.

His father, George, headed American Motors, then became the disastrous governor of Michigan. Later, he was appointed head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and was dubbed the “dud from HUD.” His policies destroyed thousands of neighborhoods across America, and contributed to the destruction of Detroit, which has lost half its population since he was Michigan’s governor.

Obligatory sports analogy

The problem is that business and politics are different fields. It’s difficult for even smart and talented folks to be good at both. Its sort of like how sports figures every now and then try to play two sports. In recent years, Deion Sanders was the most successful at trying to have it both ways. He was best cornerback ever in football, and a successful but not great major-league baseball player.

More typical was Michael Jordan’s experience. After being the best basketball player  ever, he tried baseball. His natural talents were good enough to land him on a White Sox farm club, but he hit .202 with 3 home runs in 127 games.


Of our presidents since Hoover, none has been in big business. Of course, we haven’t had that many decent presidents, but I’ll put up the list here anyway:

Obama – politician

Bush II – scion of a political family and a notorious business failure

Clinton – politician

Bush I – scion of a political family; he did start an oil business, but it had a lot of political support

Reagan – actor, union leader

Carter – peanut farmer

Ford – politician

Nixon – politician

Johnson – politican

Kennedy – scion of a political family; politician

Eisenhower – general

Truman – politician, haberdasher

Roosevelt – scion of a wealthy family, politician

–John Seiler

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  1. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 7 March, 2010, 08:06

    Politician vs Businessman or Democrat vs Republican, these are not the true measures of what makes good political leaders.

    Add to your list where on the scale between Conservative and Progressive these presidents were and it will shed more light on the issue.

    Sure our beloved ‘Governator’ is a Republican and has some business experience, but on the Conservative>Progressive scale he is far to the progressive end, and fighting against a massively Democratic legislature means that even those few of his goals that are conservative cannot be made into law.

    Carly Fiorna is mostly a Progressive and Meg Whitman actually admires the self-proclaimed “revolutionary communist” Van Jones. You can’t get more progressive than that! Business expertise is irrelevant with these two.

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