The Bain of Mitt
Posted on January 12, 2012The Bain of Mitt
The central debate of the upcoming Presidential campaign is now engaged.
The unbridled capitalist vs. the putative socialist.
Creative destruction vs. centralized planning.
It is useful that Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are the first to lob bombs at Mitt Romney’s career as a venture capitalist, because it achieved its desired effect. It got the attention of the Romney campaign.
Mr. Romney has argued that because he has real business experience, he ought to be elected to President. That is a nice argument, but it has rarely worked in the past.
Almost no big-time business executive has ever successfully run for President.
The skill set is different. A politician wins not by balancing the budget or by making the government more productive. A politician wins by getting more votes than the other guy.
A businessman succeeds by having more assets than liabilities. A businessman succeeds by making his products more efficiently and getting more productivity from his workers.
A politician wins by connecting with people, making voters believe that they actually care what happens to them on a personal level.
Authenticity is very important in a politician, and if a politician can fake that, he (or she) has it made.
Mitt Romney isn’t a particularly good faker. He is stiff on the campaign trail. He tends to say things like “I like firing people,” and “corporations are people”. He subliminally lets people know that he care more about numbers than he cares about people.
And that is his biggest problem.
People are always more important than numbers, especially in politics. You get bigger numbers of voters on your side if you make each person believe that you are with them, that you understand them, that you care about them, and that you will fight for them.
The problem for Mitt Romney is that the narrative that is now dominating the political discussion is a critique of the private sector.
The Occupy Wall Street crowd has been a massive failure, but for one thing. They have defined the terms of the debate. It is now the 1% vs. the 99%
And Mitt Romney is on the wrong side of that debate.
Arguing on behalf of creative destruction in this atmosphere is not a winning strategy.
Saying that your business experience, where you were able to get extraordinarily wealthy at the expense of a bunch of poor suckers who lost their jobs and then had to go on welfare, is not the best way to connect with people.
The short film financed by Newt Gingrich is a devastating indictment of Mr. Romney. Gingrich might want to now run away from it, because of sharp conservative criticism, but that doesn’t mean it will go away any time soon.
The question today is: How does Romney respond?
Does he go all in on the idea that capitalism always works (even vulture capitalism, as Rick Perry would say it)? Does he acknowledge that sometimes some people get hurt, but, hey, that’s the way the game is played?
However he responds, he must make the human connections. It is not just about making workers more efficient. It is not just about productivity. And it is not just about competitiveness.
The reason we have government in the first place is that government helps to bring order to the marketplace. It helps establish rules so that the market can work both efficiently and humanely.
It may be more efficient to use child labor, but we have made a judgment that using child labor is inhumane.
It may be more efficient to make workers work 80 hours a week, including Saturdays and Sundays, but we have made a decision as a society that a forty hour work week should be the norm.
It may be more efficient to pollute the water and dirty the air to produce energy and manufacture other products, but we have the decision clean air and clean water trumps business efficiency.
None of these decisions were necessarily welcomed by the business community when they were initially made by the politicians, but that is why politicians are different than business leaders. They look at life through a different prism.
If Mitt Romney is going to be successful against Barack Obama, he has to realize that a politician is different than a CEO.
Now, Mr. Obama has his own set of real challenges.
Obama has no understanding of how the business community works. He also has relatively little real-world political experience.
As a community activist and then a professor, Mr. Obama has his own limitations. Where Romney worries first about hitting his business numbers, Obama care first about the theoretical considerations. He governs as a professor, not as a practical politician.
Romney is right when he says that Obama is in over his head. Because Obama never had any executive experience, because Obama never was a governor, never ran a city council, never cut deals that brought conflicting parties together, never had to balance a budget or negotiate with anybody, he has no clue how to actually run the most important government in the world.
That is why every big deal is cut with Obama out of the room. That is why every time Obama is in the room, a deal gets screwed up. That is why John Boehner has to deal with Harry Reid, and why Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid dictated the terms of both the stimulus package and the health care law.
Obama is no Lyndon Johnson and let’s face it, he’s not even a George W. Bush.
He is not a deal-cutter because he doesn’t understand the dynamics of deal cutting.
As a community activist, Obama tends to look at every situation through the prism of class warfare. That might seem to fit the political moment of the time, but the vast middle class instinctively understands that Obama is not looking out for them. Instead, he is looking out for the special interests that typically thrive from community activist types.
His goals are not create an opportunity society where everybody gets an equal shot. His goals are to spread a little wealth around to his community activist friends. He has no interest in reforming government. His interest is to protect government and most importantly, protect those friends of his who profit from the government.
Both Romney and Obama are cool customers. Both seemingly lack the compassion gene. Where Bill Clinton and George Bush were bubbling with emotion, Romney and Obama have relatively low emotional intelligence capabilities, especially for politicians. It is no surprise that both the Romney and Obama campaigns are such data-driven campaigns. But a campaign that lives by date alone will not be successful.
You get the sense that both Romney and Obama look at human beings as numbers, not as individuals, Romney from a business perspective and Obama from a sociological perspective.
Ultimately, the white working class voter will decide this election. They are the swing vote. And ultimately, this election will be a referendum on President Obama. If they decide that Obama is not looking out for their interests, but instead looking out for the special interests, he will be in serious trouble. But if the Obama campaign can successfully make the case that Mitt Romney is a heartless CEO who doesn’t care what happens to the middle class, the President is going to get himself re-elected.