May 15, 2002

TIE ME TO THE WHIPPING POST :

In a post last week, STUPID LIKE A CEO, I suggested that the press was missing a significant story as regards George W. Bush by failing to recognize that his presidential style has its roots in his business background. I suggested that, like the head of a company who has to keep various other executives happy, Mr. Bush is succeeding in achieving his goals by setting broad goals, then standing aside during the decision making process and letting the underlings fight it out and take credit for the final decisions, then stepping in during the implementation phase and jiggering things back towards his original goals. I thought I was pretty careful not to make any claims that Mr. Bush is a business genius or for the final product that is resulting from this process. The point was not to puff up Mr. Bush, but to call attention to a modus operandi that seems to have gone largely unnoticed.

Now, by any objective standard, you would have to say that Mr. Bush has been a legislative success. Congressional Quarterly did a report on his legislative record for 2001 that showed the Congress had adopted his position on legislation over 70% of the time, a record of accomplishment that they compared to LBJ at the height of the Great Society, when America was basically a one party state. That President Bush, despite a contested election, achieved much of this with the Senate in Democrat hands and all of it with the House narrowly divided, makes the record even more impressive. None of which is to say that any of it is good law, merely that he's gotten a good deal of what he wanted. And you'd think that people, even people who hate him, would be interested in how he's pulled it off.

Instead, judging by the tenor of comments on this post--like those in the comments section or And don't get me started on whether anyone learns anything at Harvard Business School (ExPatPundit, 5/11/02) which is addressed below--the Left would appear to be falling into the same trap that the Right fell into during the Clinton years. They don't seem to be able to give George W. Bush enough credit for them to take the things that he has succeeded in seriously. So we get brillig responses like this one from Charles Dodgson at The Looking Glass. Mr. Dodgson--whose taste in authors we applaud--argues that, contrary to my take, President Bush : isn't like a businessmen because he's cutting programs, when a businessman would want to control the money; isn't a big picture guy because he didn't return federal government programs to the states to run them; isn't like a businessman because he's producing a bad product; isn't like a businessman because he's unlike the detail-oriented Bob McNamara, who ran Ford Motor and then the Vietnam War with a heavy hand; isn't like a businessman because he's not successful; isn't like a businessman because the Federal Government is bigger than the businesses he's run in the past; and isn't like a businessman because the government is in the red.

Okay, suppose I concede every one of those criticisms of President Bush, how does any of that contradict the core argument? Perhaps he's more like Henry Ford than like Bob McNamara, so what? We'd expect the dynamics of politics to toss up a visionary rather than a technocrat. The point is, he still should be analyzed from the perspective of the business culture that produced him, not as some kind of sui generis phenomenon. Even if Democrats and pundits think that everything President Bush has done is wrong (from his Cabinet choices to tax cuts to cloning to the war to education), it still seems useful to me to understand how he's getting those things done. Of course, if you refuse to acknowledge that he's done anything, the whole argument is an exercise in futility. But if you think he's somehow managing to do some things, even if you think they're screwing up the country, it seems liked you want to figure out how come he keeps winning, especially if his ideas are so bad for the country.

By failing to reckon with Bill Clinton, Republicans left themselves unprepared to deal with him when crunch time came during the government shutdown in 1995. If President Bush's opponents similarly fail to reckon with him, they're likely in for eight years that will be just as unpleasant for them as the past eight were for the Right. If they can get past their animus long enough to figure out what's going on, maybe they can beat him. I suppose I'm just as happy having them dismiss him entirely--their loss is all of our gain.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at May 15, 2002 7:37 AM
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