January 11, 2012
One of Mitt Romney’s most appealing credentials is his proven executive capabilities. His success at Bain Capital, his ability to resuscitate a scandal-scarred Olympics, his masterful campaign organization – they all speak to his sharp mind and problem-solving talents. Talents which, according to Peter Robinson, former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, count for little in the Oval Office. In a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Robinson says the Obama administration considers business skills useless in running the country. What matters instead is the ability to communicate effectively.
I could not disagree more energetically. Our country faces urgent challenges – $15 trillion in debt, 20 million underemployed, $2 trillion in infrastructure needs, unsustainable entitlements programs, dismal public schools and a monthly $37 billion bill for imported oil. We cannot talk our way out of these problems. If we could, the loquacious President Obama would now be enjoying rhapsodic approval ratings.
Mr. Robinson says correctly that the president only hires a “few thousand of the more than one million civilians that the federal government employs.” That is correct, but those chosen can have extraordinary impact on the direction and tone of the country. In the Obama administration, this is especially true. This White House has beefed up its staff by hiring dozens of “czars” not confirmed by Congress or accountable to our legislators. It has also not been shy about vaulting itself into the private sector. As a consequence, numerous sectors hitherto relatively immune to federal meddling (think autos) have received the Obama imprimatur.
Mr. Obama’s hires have been
for having little private sector or
“real world” management experience.
Consider one of President Obama’s first hires – Rahm Emanuel. Obama’s choice for Chief of Staff was known to be a ruthless (and profane) infighter – someone who could act as “enforcer” with Congress. How does that square with Obama’s campaign promise to “reach across the aisle" and cool the partisan boil? From the day of the announcement, Republicans in Congress were on full alert -- this was not the choice of a conciliator.
Like many of his predecessors, President Obama assembled a tried and trusted group of confidants to run his White House, and chose ideologically-aligned activists like Lisa Jackson (EPA), Hilda Solis (Labor) and Steven Chu (Energy) to manage critical departments. That is his prerogative, but the trickle-down impact has been a serious shift in focus and policy – one that has undermined business confidence at a critical time.
Mr. Obama’s hires have been notable (and frequently noted) for having little private sector or “real world” management experience. The unusual sway held by academics and activists in the administration has meant that one of the most important tasks confronted by CEOs -- prioritizing the needs of an organization – has been ignored. When President Obama took office, the failing economy required all-out triage, and to his credit, President Obama was convinced to rescue the battered banks and to push for emergency stimulus spending. So far, so good. With an infusion of some $800 billion, and the nation buoyed by constructive measures, the economy began to show the first signs of recovery.
Not recognizing the fragility of those green shoots, President Obama then pressed ahead with his legacy-building healthcare program. In the process, he torched any further political collaboration – collaboration ultimately essential to our continued recovery. Not only did the Obamacare wars alarm the nation, they spawned the Tea Party, which rose up in fury and delivered a confrontational Congress in 2010, effectively blocking any forward momentum.
This administration has given
us 16 programs aimed at fixing our
housing bust, but none has worked.
A good manager figures out a way to get his board and his workers in his corner. Without a doubt, the emboldened GOP has been obstructionist at times – especially on the matter of raising taxes. However, Mr. Obama has seemingly encouraged the rift at pivotal junctures. During the debt ceiling debate this summer, for example, he chose to score political points rather than work with Congress to achieve the goal. He studiously ignored the pledge many in Congress had made saying they would not agree to higher taxes. As to exciting the worker bees, Mr. Obama has played up resentments and finger pointing, blaming one group and then another for the country’s problems. This is not leadership.
A good manager places a high priority on protecting his brand. Under President Obama’s watch, and in part because of the partisan warfare that he has engaged in, the United States has suffered its first debt downgrade. The damage from that unparalleled loss of prestige would be much worse were the EU not in disarray.
Perhaps most important, a good manager understands how to fix things. There are no ends of things that are broken in our country today. From the postal service to our embarrassing airports, to our doomed Medicare system, we need solutions. This administration has given us 16 programs aimed at fixing our housing bust – all launched with lots of well-chosen words – but none has worked.
Mr. Robinson is correct that a leader needs good communication skills. But he needs – first and foremost – sound ideas and principles to communicate. Mr. Romney is not a great communicator, but he has a solid history of fixing broken organizations. Surely that counts for more than words.