Is Business Experience Relevant to Being a Good President?
Interestingly, the job of President only requires that a person be a native born American of at least 35 years of age (and, perhaps, a residency requirement). There is, of course, also the matter of being elected.
When Obama was running for president he was routinely attacked for his lack of experience. While I preferred Obama over McCain, I was quite willing to acknowledge that the question of experience was legitimate. After all, as other folks have noted, the presidency is not supposed to be an entry level position. The question of Obama’s experience will, presumably, not be an issue in the upcoming election-after all, he has been in office for a while and the economy is what is on the minds of most folks.
While Romney is the most likely choice for the Republicans, Cain is the latest contender for (or pretender to) the GOP throne. Since he has no actual experience in government, he is pointing towards his business experience and his very impressive life story. While Romney has executive experience as the governor of Massachusetts he does not seem to be playing that card very hard. This is, after all, not surprising given that Governor Romney would seem to look very much like a moderate Democrat in the eyes of the current Republican base. Romney is, instead, focusing on his business experience.
As some have pointed out, Romney’s experience seems to be more in financial matters rather than what would be considered positions of executive leadership. In contrast, Cain seems to have more experience as a business leader. However, the question still arises as to whether or not business experience is relevant to being a good president.
As various critics have been quick to point out, Bush had an MBA and was initially pitched as being a businessman president. However, the results of his eight years certainly raise some questions about how much business experience is relevant to the presidency. Then again, critics have asserted that Bush’s presidency was the logical extension of his less than spectacular business career. In any case, Bush provides but one example and hence arguments made based on this single example would be rather weak. It would, perhaps, be wiser to see if the skills and talents of the businessman would translate to the oval office.
In the Ion, Socrates argues that each profession has its own domain of skill and knowledge. For example, being a good doctor does not make one a good general or a good fisherman. A person can, of course, have multiple skill sets-but these sets are distinct. Speaking of dead Greeks, Aristotle claimed that the life of the businessman was distinct from the political life-but, as I always tell my students, just because he is famous does not mean he cannot be wrong.
On the face of it, however, there do seem to many important dissimilarities between the two jobs. One obvious major difference is that the presidency involves so much more than what a business executive does. As such, there would seem to be rather significant areas that business skills would not cover (such as matters of war and foreign policy). A second obvious major difference is that the ends are different. A businessman’s ultimate end is to make a profit. The ultimate end for the president is, presumably, the good of the people as a whole. That said, perhaps it could be argued that the truly highest good is the making of money by the right people and hence a businessman and the president have the same ultimate end. A third obvious difference is that a business is typically not a democracy and hence getting things done in business is very different from getting things done as a president. As such, there seem to be many differences between the role of the businessman and the role of the president.
That said, it can be argued that business experience can provide a foundation from which a person can become a good president. To use an obvious analogy, we have had presidents who were high ranking military men prior to being president. Some of them proved to be good presidents, others not so much. I would suspect that the same would be true of someone with business experience. This, of course, suggests that it is not so much the sort of experience the person has, but what sort of person has that experience. As such, an exceptional person could probably do well as president, regardless of his (or her) specific background. Naturally, relevant experience would be useful, but what counts as relevant would probably be rather broad. After all, good leadership is more than just a matter of making money or knowing about war.
Overall, I would say that outstanding performance in business (or many other things, such as military service or law) would be a plus for a presidential candidate. However, the experience of a being an executive businessman is different from the experience of serving in the executive branch of government. While the same term, “executive”, is being used, this does not prove they are the same ins substance. After all, the fact that I have been running for years does not entail that I would be good at running for office.