Five years ago, it looked as if putting a guy with a business degree in charge might at least have the benefit of a certain level-headedness. The MBA President! No ordinary POTUS, but a hardbitten, dyed-in-the-wool Executive-in-Chief! A results-oriented fighter with a penchant for hacking through red tape!
Today, that notion, that promise — along with the expectation of a certain competence-under-pressure — lies buried beneath millions of gallons of oily, snake-infested water, unmoored from reality, gone forever.
I don’t think President Bush’s specific failure with regard to Hurricane Katrina nullifies the promise of a “results-oriented fighter with a penchant for hacking through red tape”. President Bush may not be that guy, but it’s still possible. Where the dream went awry is that we don’t specifically need an MBA president. Having an MBA doesn’t make a person qualified to be president; leadership does. The idea of a business-oriented president mentally geared to produce positive, identifiable results is worthy. But it can’t come from just any business person. It must come from someone who thinks like an entrepreneur. Ideally, we want Ross Perot without the “he’s nuts” factor.
The entrepreneur looks to grow a business. We don’t want a president to grow the government, per se. If that’s the goal, President Bush succeeded admirably in his first four-and-a-half years. In relation to government, I take that to mean the government does what it’s supposed to do. He (or she, if you like) forces the government to find its niche (what the private sector can’t/shouldn’t do) and excel at it. His government would shed responsibility to those better able to accomplish them (the private sector) the tasks government can’t/shouldn’t do. For example, the entrepreneurial president wouldn’t wait for political pressure to fix obvious holes in FEMA’s response. (The entrepreneurial president wouldn’t give a vital position as a political patronage, either, but I’m trying to deal with where we are.) The entrepreneurial president would expect the government to improve at what it does, even when it succeeds. “Great job. How can we do this even better next time?” becomes the motto.
The entrepreneurial president also understands that spending the nation into bankruptcy is stupid. He’d cut costs where they can and should be cut. He’d hold spending down when the government’s financial position doesn’t support more spending. If new spending needs arose, say from a natural disaster, he’d find a way to allocate that money, but he’d cut something else less essential. Perhaps a pork-barreled bridge in Alaska, for example. And he’d certainly not fall over himself trying to hand it out without any accounting of where it’s going and what it will buy. Necessity beats political urgency.
Last, and most important, the entrepreneurial president raises “revenues” responsibly. He’s already accepted the government’s legitimate role and shed everything else. He’d expect the government to assess and collect only the taxes necessary to meet that goal. He’d leave the private sector to fund everything else. In establishing that tax policy, he understands that fair is fair. Every citizen, according to his means, pays his share. No progressivity, no redistribution. (Two words: flat tax) The entrepreneurial president knows that government’s role in the economy is to get out of the way. To do this, the government must not tax like a monarch seeking tribute. He also understands that government can’t incentivize “proper” actions because proper actions are subjective and ever-changing. Think not subsidizing the portable cd player because the iPod made it obsolete.
The entrepreneurial president understands all of this. He isn’t in the middle management business. In the end, he is concerned with success, both for the nation and all of its citizens. He measures that through results, accountability, and action. That’s the “businessman as president” dream I’m keeping alive.