Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Business of America is...

I have mentioned our local roller derby before. I can't fully explains what makes it a hit, no pun intended, around here, but they always draw full crowds. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that, while they take the sport seriously, they are a bit less serious about themselves. The most evident sign of this little quirk is that the women don't use their real names in competing, but make up new ones, which are often quite clever. Last weekend's action, for example, featured roller babes Ms. B. Haven, Avi N. Flew and Russ T. Machete. Mess with them and you'll soon be in Sir E. S. Payne.

No one should kid themselves that running a campaign for president is not a long, difficult, brutal, complicated and mostly unfun undertaking. I don't blame anyone for considering the effort, then backing off. That's a growing list, by the way, and it now includes Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump (which I predicted, though not exclusively) and Mississippi governor Haley Barbour. I sometimes think that if you run a campaign all the way through to the party convention you should get a special designation to add to your name, something like O.P.C. for Onetime Presidential Contender. The first caucus is in eight months.

Another thing you can't blame candidates for is putting their strengths out front. It's someone else's job to scout out your weaknesses, which is fair, though people don't want to be seen peeking into corners looking for another candidate's dirty laundry. The Republican Party these days has some candidates whose main prior experience is in business. This isn't anything new, but you can expect to hear again how candidate X excels at "creating jobs, building wealth, provided opportunity and has balanced the books of a large business" and therefore "brings real world experience" to the White House." Does this sound familiar to anyone? It should.
And perhaps we'll have a moment in which the perfect holder of the office of President is a former business tycoon of some sort. We have had a number of wealthy presidents, but you could not seriously say that FDR or Kennedy or either Bush was someone who woke every day thinking of how to make an extra buck. The point is, the businessmen-presidents we have had don't seem to have great records as presidents.
And there really aren't that many of them. Truman once ran a little store (unsuccessfully), but you have to go back to Hoover to find someone who came from nowhere to somewhere as a business guy. He turned his degree in mining engineering (awarded by Stanford U's first graduating class) to a series of lucrative jobs all over the world. He had great foresight as Secretary of Commerce, too. But he also had the misfortune of being flattened by the Great Depression, an event so huge that no president could have done much better.
In fact, I could be wrong, but the closest to businessmen as we know the term today would boil down to Polk, Jefferson and Washington, all gentlemen farmers, and all of them slave owners. I will admit to being a bit hazy on the professions of some of the bearded presidents of the 19th century. More than a couple, I'm thinking, were Civil War veterans who were GOP party hacks from Ohio. Harding was the last Ohioan.
That's a bit surprising, isn't it? We trust businesses at some level every day to do or supply what they promise, and, mostly, they do. So the appeal is a natural one, but somehow when it gets down to voting, we're more likely to trust the governor or former general than the butcher, baker or chain store operator. Republicans could take either Mitt Romney, a practitioner of slash-and-burn capitalism and a huge success, or Mr. Cain, he of the million plus pizzas made by Godfather's. Either one, if nominated, will be looking uphill, however, at the former community organizer from Chicago, Mr. Obama. Go figure.


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