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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
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America's Short List of Successful Businessman Presidents


John G. Stewart, a philosopher friend of mine, is uncharacteristically agitated. What provokes John Stewart is the Republican argument that the cure for what ails this nation's struggling economy is electing "a president who has made it big time in business, one who can create jobs and get America moving again. "

As Stewart, who in an earlier life was an enormously respected legislative aide to one of the 20th century's premier legislators, Hubert Humphrey, asks: "What on earth is the basis for this repeated claim? There certainly is no historical record to fall back on. "

OK. Let's look at the professional backgrounds of the presidents Americans, according to surveys, most generally admire. George Washington was a general. Abraham Lincoln was a small-town lawyer. Franklin Roosevelt was a lawyer. Teddy Roosevelt was a public servant. Dwight Eisenhower was a general. Woodrow Wilson was a college president. John Kennedy was a journalist and elected official. Ronald Reagan was an actor and a union president. Bill Clinton was a lawyer.

The only "businessman" U.S. commander in chief to secure high marks from both ordinary citizens and professional historians is Harry Truman, whose haberdashery business ingloriously failed.

But Mitt Romney is far from the first Republican presidential standard-bearer to sound the virtues/values of the businessman in the Oval Office theme. The 1920 GOP nominee's campaign published a booklet with the arresting title: "Less Government in Business; More Business in Government. " After he was elected, the Republican, an Ohio newspaper publisher-businessman kept his promise by presiding over one of the two most corrupt administrations in U.S. history. Thank you, Warren G. Harding.

In the last 24 presidential elections, only two elected presidents were denied a second White House turn by the voters. Democrat Jimmy Carter ran a successful peanut business in his native Georgia and Republican George H.W.

Bush moved from Connecticut to Texas, where he founded the prospering Zapata oil company.

The most successful businessman ever elected president had to be the world-renowned engineer and investment banker Herbert Hoover, whose exceptional humanitarian efforts after World War I almost certainly saved Belgium from widespread starvation. President Hoover left office with 25 percent of his nation unemployed.

George W. Bush bounced around the Texas oil business until he struck gold as the businessman-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. When the nation elected his successor in 2008, the younger President Bush's job approval rating was just 25 percent positive and 70 percent negative.

John Stewart puts it bluntly: "The truth is that you search in vain for a single example — just one — of a successful businessman who then took his business experience and used it to become a successful president of the United States. "

Why is this the case? Because, according to Stewart, "running a successful business venture — like Bain Capital, to pick one at random — has almost nothing in common with leading the United States as her president."

Unlike the businessman who is praised for his forceful decision-making, the successful president must not just make wise decisions, he must also be able to persuade the country, the Congress and powerful interest groups to accept his decision. The president — unlike the CEO who mostly has to answer only to a like-minded board of directors and his company's bottom-line — has to be able to inspire, to court, to intimidate, to negotiate and, yes, to yield.

John Stewart is right. The presidency is a far more complicated, demanding and multifaceted job than that faced by any corporate chairman or CEO, where to quote Will Rogers, who died in 1935, "the business of government is to keep the government out of business, unless business needs government aid."

It turns out that being a successful businessman may well preclude you from becoming a successful U.S. president.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




13 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... Do not worry about such claims as are made by the parties for their candidate...It is sufficient cause to vote for any man that he is not the guy you are voting against, which sort of explains the dirty diaper rash of negative advertizement... Nothing succeeds like success, and nothing is so motivating as repulsion...
A lot is made of Mr. Obama's likability... No one does nothing for like... This is even true for black people... A black girl friend once told me the reason they do not tip often is that a smile don't get shet... Perhaps not getting anything for their smiles has taught them that...
Hate is another situation all together... If hate keeps you up all night it will get you out of bed, and if it can get you that far, it is not so far to a voting booth... The ticket to election land is on the train of hate... Find that one huffing and puffing in the station, and you can ride it anywhere...
Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Jun 8, 2012 11:10 AM
How about the even shorter list of successful community activist Presidents?

That would be ...Zero.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Tom
Fri Jun 8, 2012 4:36 PM
Re: Tom...As if politics were not a community activity... It's just that if you want to be president before senile you have to begin working at politics just out of diapers, and no one today wants to desribe themselves as a politician when politics are the particular disease we all suffer from... So, in the future, see community activist and read politician...It is simply a euphemism; a general sign of our inability to speak or face the truth...
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Jun 9, 2012 4:11 AM
Dear Mark Shields:
All of the reports about the Wisconsin recall report Walker's victory. But he lost the Senate majority that he had because a democrat ousted a republican. That is not as strong a victory as Waker's but it sure will make it harder for him to continue on his path to defang the unions. Why is no one remarking on this?
George Veronis
Comment: #4
Posted by: George Veronis
Sat Jun 9, 2012 11:32 AM
Re: George Veronis; Sir... The unions of America bear the colors of the American Working Class... They are corrupt, but not more corrupt... They are selfish and not more selfish than anyone else in the population, but they are organized, and they dare to stand against a class far more organized than they will ever be, and to demand their piece of the American Pie...
Look at how much big money went to defeat the forces of justice, and still they only just beat the people...Do you understand the situation here... The working man no matter what, cannot stand against the power of government to tax him out of his earnings though it will do nothing to make certain his earning allow him to support himself and a family... But the very class that pleads penury to the government and yet have millions to lavish on the corrosion of our political process has spoken... America should listen ...
I have only one kind thing to say to that class of people who make others fight for their privilage, and make them pay their own wages to do so: Gdamn you all... Enough of parasites... Enough of these cancers on the body politic...
We do not need them, or their power over our government... The democracy, the democratic spirit whose banner is raised by organized labor has all the rights it needs to resist tyranny in the work place...It just needs to do it...
Let them desire that every individual should have to stand alone against the corporation so they can squash them like fleas... If the working people really cannot organize for their own defense they are going to have to learn to act as individuals, responsible and judicious in all their individual actions... And I would not recommend it, but for the fact that the employers make it necessary... Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #5
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Jun 9, 2012 12:06 PM
Your PBS partner David Brooks wrote an interesting companion piece earlier this year on the CEO President.
Bush (43) liked to say that he was a businessman. And you see where that got us. A businessman with an MBA from Harvard and was governor of a state. I am not sure that is a combination we should try again.
Comment: #6
Posted by: pt821
Sat Jun 9, 2012 12:28 PM
Re: pt821....Sir;... I heard some expert on one of those PBS science programs say psychopaths are thought to be found at four times the national average in the upper level management of the business world... Let us elect some generic borderline criminal from business, and imagine our chances of having a true psychopath for president, as if that has never happened before in history... Power must be the cure for insecurity and mental illness since they gravitate to it like lepers gravitated to Jesus...
Comment: #7
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Jun 9, 2012 7:19 PM
Sweeney, per comment #3, I got you there. Thanks for the brevity, made it easier to follow.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Tom
Sat Jun 9, 2012 8:11 PM
Mark Shields is a left wing loon who is often wrong but never in doubt. His latest claim that privatizing government would increase the cost of it is preposterous.
Even Mark knows this cannot be true....but you know what he has a great gig and gets paid to regurgitate the left's talking points.
He is the type of Democrat who was willing to evolve into becoming a "progressive" because he knows who butters his biscuits and he is consuming them by the dozens.
For Dems not to criticize the worst President in the history of the USA show their loyalty to party and not what is best for America.
Cheers Mark- I am willing to bet you live like a Wall Street Fat Cat..... or maybe just a FAT Cat
Comment: #9
Posted by: LagunaRay
Sun Jun 10, 2012 2:53 PM
Re: LagunaRay...Sir;... Do you think Mr. shields eats too much??? Because I think so too, and he is smart, and he has been around, and he is a good guy, like the sort of good guy who cannot really believe people ever are in their heart of hearts, mean, malicious, and malignant... I am certain he is liberal, and I know he is civil, and the one is essential to liberty because we only deserve what freedom we allow, and civility is essential to civilization, and once we let that go, our animal nature is closer than our social...
I bet he does not make much... Labors of love usually do not pay well...My pension may match his for all I know, and I am not yet 60, and have been retired for over ten years...Mr. Shields reminds me of an uncle who knows everybody and almost every thing except how to help with your plumbing or fix the car...And he can eat what he wants, and work out too little, if he wants... He is a good spirit, and a fine life, and I only want to reasonably expect he will be sorting things out for a long time... He is too damned nice, and sometimes that is exactly what we all need...
Comment: #10
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Jun 10, 2012 7:06 PM
Re: LagunaRay...Sir... You do know that the progressives were a wing of the republican party when it was still possible for them to consider the future without nostalgia for the past???

And you are aware, are you not, of the really lackluster and do nothing presidents we have had before you call Mr. Obama: the worst???... Even fox news pretends to be fair and balanced... How many lives will you save standing on the bank, because getting a little wet, and conceding to those you oppose that they may at least be human or partly right is tactful, and often a winning stratagy...
They key to changing minds is changing emotions, and that explains the power of art... To take an extreme position, and clearly state it, for example: That Mr. Obama is the worst president in the history of the USA -may confirm the beliefs of the convinced, but it will convert no one to your opinion... Even a casual judge of presidents would be forced to disagree with you, which means all reasonable people would disagree with you...
Mr. Obama is just some lawyer who happens to be half white but looks black, whose worst character trait is that he is trying to save capitalism for the capitalist class because his formal understanding allows him no alternative...You and he could use a pardigm shift... We could do better...Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #11
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Jun 10, 2012 7:21 PM
sir iam som porbalam pls sir help me monely pls sir my ag 25 man but i no hapley no monely sir my ac no umeshvm 0177yr2579001 chennai ifsecode indb0000177
Comment: #12
Posted by: umesh
Sun Aug 4, 2013 10:26 AM

hello sir,

how are you ,i hope you will be fine , brother i am Adnan shafqat from pakistan i partner your business with you i want you start our business here in pakistan so i want, give you they things you need sell there so please contact me please not ignore this
Comment: #13
Posted by: Adnan shafqat
Sat Apr 5, 2014 10:53 AM
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