Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Memo to Republicans: the private sector's not all that

One of the most superficially attractive and persuasive things Mitt Romney (above) said during his bid for the presidency was: 'trust me: I'm a businessman. I can turn America around'. The very fact that the Obama campaign went out of its way to trash this legacy, and pollute this 'successful businessman' brand, shows just how scared they were about it.

Except it's all rubbish. And it shows just what a load of nonsense the whole 'businessman as saviour' language really is.

You know - all those people who say 'yada yada, in the real world, etc. etc.', 'in the wealth-creating part of the economy', blah blah... As they pull themselves up to their full height while resting one arm on a comfortably-ornate fireplace.

So. Who are these successful businessmen-in-politics? Herbert Hoover? Jimmy Carter? Yeah, they were a great success, weren't they? None of our objectively 'successful' British Prime Ministers have been businesspeople either. Churchill was a soldier and a writer, among other things; Wilson a social scientist and civil servant; Thatcher an industrial chemist; Blair a lawyer. Only Harold Macmillan had any sort of business experience (in publishing), and he inherited his company - showing very little interest in it until his long post-premiership retirement.

No, the Romney campaign is a good example of why we don't trust businessmen in politics. And why the 'real world' argument is for the birds. At a time when our corporate elites are out of control, and they've landed us in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s - when they pay each other vast sums for failure, and like to rest on their laurels - we understand this instinctively.

But perhaps we did need another proof.

Behold, then, the disaster of the Romney campaign - only now leaking out. It's an eye-watering set of blunders if ever there was one, all rooted in a view that 'business knows best' - and that government should stay out of the economic affairs. Paying bonuses to campaign staff. Relying on a top-down, father-knows-best computer system straight out of IBM in the 1970s - which then promptly crashed on the day of the election itself, leaving thousands of volunteers bereft of a centralised leadership they should never have needed. Leading 'from the front', with a homely 1950s father figure at the front. The whole thing fell apart when it collided with reality on Election Day itself. What a surprise.

Romney sold himself as a great CEO. In fact, trapped in an old-fashioned view of what the corporate world could do and be, another CEO ran rings around him. A CEO based in voluntarism. In activism. In grass-roots, bottom-up organising. In shifting landscapes, flexibility, and light-on-your-feet co-operation between real people and real communities.

His name is Barack Obama, and he's never run a company in his life.

Approaches from 'business'? Pah. You can keep them.