By Peter Lindfield, published in the Telegraph-Journal 20th July 2012
In September 2011, Mitt Romney, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, revealed the most detailed plan for economic growth and job creation of any presidential candidate. Two months later, Romney proposed, “extensive reforms designed to cut spending, move the nation toward a balanced budget and strengthen both Medicare and Social Security.” When considered as a whole, Republicans hope that Romney’s policy prescriptions will make a case for jump-starting job creation, solving the debt crisis and helping make the federal government smaller and simpler.
There’s no doubt that Mitt Romney is deeply determined to make this election all about the economy. Last month, a less-than-stellar U.S. jobs report gave Romney a strategic opportunity to put Democrats on the defensive and to support his assertions that Obama’s policies aren’t putting America back on track.
Instead of taking this opportunity, Romney appeared on Fox News just after the numbers were released and criticized the creation of 115,000 jobs as a figure that was well below expectations. According to Romney, “we should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month. This is way, way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery.”
On the same day at a campaign rally, he set an another high bar for what constitutes an acceptable unemployment rate saying that, “Anything over eight per cent, anything near eight per cent, anything over four per cent, is not a cause for celebration.”
Even prominent Republicans winced at the prospect of supporting such aggressive targets. Not only was Romney’s response to the report wildly unrealistic, it potentially paints him as divorced from reality on the economy. One news organization, Talking Points Memo (TPM), even asked if it was possible that Romney was “trying to set a trap for the Democrats that leaves them having to fight pure optimism with a far less exciting reality.”
In fact, a “normal recovery” has never featured anything close to half-a-million jobs created per month. And unemployment has not been below four per cent since April 2000, when it was 3.8 per cent. That was during the Clinton administration.
The cornerstone of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign is his successful business experience. But not only do presidents with significant business experience not outperform those without it, the record of presidential candidates with business experience defeating their rivals is not good either. Ross Perot ran as an independent candidate in the 1992 and 1996 elections with campaigns that highlighted his extensive business experience. He never received more than 19 per cent of the popular vote.
Throughout its history, businessmen have not dominated the Oval Office. Of the 44 presidents the United States has had since 1789, 21 have been lawyers. Only a few of the 20 presidents since 1900 have had significant business experience. It is useful to contemplate this when considering the presidents who many historians think are the least impressive of the modern era.
Warren Harding left the country on the verge of a depression and under the clouds of the Teapot Dome and Ohio Gang scandals. Herbert Hoover famously left the country in a depression. The name George W. Bush (Bush 43) is now synonymous with such incompetence that he receives the lowest rankings of any president. Yet, Harding, Hoover and Bush 43 each managed to accumulate millions of dollars in the private sector before entering politics, and all three were successful businessmen. Bush 43 attended Harvard business school, as Romney did, and like Romney was committed to bringing business principles to the presidency.
With this less-than-distinguished track record over the last 100 years, voters would do well to view Romney’s business experience with a jaundiced eye and ask if this is really the experience that matters.