What kind of businessman is Mitt Romney? That's the question that is coming to animate the campaign. It's Mitt's fault, really. He ran as a man who would bring business experience to running government, someone who had turned around companies so could turn around our economy. He boasted that he has been a job-creator so he would know how to put American workers back to work.
So it was fair game for first his Republican rivals and now the Democratic incumbent to ask that same question: What kind of businessman is Mitt Romney?
In answering that question, we've heard he's a "vulture capitalist," who "off-shores" and "outsources" money and jobs, and whose business brilliance was ensuring himself a profit whether companies in his care flourished or failed. He was an ultimate speculator, a contract-breaker, a union-buster, a man whose business, in the words of a Bloomberg headlines, "yielded private gains, socialized losses."
He's a Gordon Gekko who espoused the idea that "greed is good," a Patrick Bateman of "American Psycho" whose line between amoral and immoral long ago evaporated. He's a man of the modern economy, not creating a product, but moving numbers to create personal wealth. He's a millionaire with endless tax write-offs, shockingly low tax rates and years of secret tax returns, hidden foreign accounts and, as the title of his memoir, "no apologies."
In short, he's no George Romney.
Bain has become a bane, polls shows Americans no longer believe Romney's role as job-creator, and as much flack as Team Obama has gotten from fellow Democrats for attacking Romney's business bona fides, the attacks have worked, and will just keep coming. Now that it's clear there are three years in which Romney has been secretive about whether he ran his own business, the negative spiral will just continue.
Romney opened up his business background and now can't stand his ground. His strength has become his liability, and he can't run away from it the way he has his other main achievement: near-universal health coverage in Massachusetts.
The Romney campaign invited us to ask what type of businessperson he's been. The Obama campaign has given the public a compelling answer. My response is different: why would I want a businessperson running our government?
I don't want a businessman President. Businesses aren't run like countries. Corporations focus on financial profit. Nations need to trade in social profit as well. CEOs, too often, value short-term gains. I want elected leaders who, too rarely, invest in our long-term well-being.
Let's remember for a moment the legacy of our first MBA President -- George W. Bush. Certain businesses boomed under his tenure: military contractors, the for-profit prison industry, his allies at legacy energy conglomerates in oil and coal. The country, though, didn't see the sort of efficiency, innovation and energy we associate with healthy enterprise. Creative accounting, not true creativity, was a hallmark of the Bush Administration.
Even if Romney's record was sterling at creating a business that served a real value, that respected workers, that contributed to healthy markets, we could still question how well that experience would translate to the Presidency. The President needs to listen to a range of constituencies, not just a board of directors or corporate shareholders. A nation needs to measure its success by the least of its citizens. A government needs to make decisions that spend money without making it back. A national leader needs to follow a moral compass.
Maybe MBAs are trained in those skills, maybe the best CEOs follow those practices -- and if they burnish those credentials, then I'll see their business background as good for the country. But until then, I want a President, not a CEO. And I want to be proud of America not as a profitable company, but as a vibrant, values-based nation.