A few days ago, I heard a radio ad for Bruce Rauner, a businessman who is running for the GOP nomination against Illinois governor Pat Quinn. One of his main points is the state is out of control, and he should be elected so that he could run it efficiently like a business.
This is one of my biggest election bugaboos, and it tends to come from Republicans. They want to run the state -- or city or district, or even the country itsef -- like a business. And my first thought is always, hey, if you want to run a business, find one and run it. But if you want to be a politician and run for office, then understand what you're doing and be a politician. Because the two are not remotely the same.
To think that you can run a state or city "like a business" shows that you don't understand what you're doing. Because being a politician is nothing like running a business. When you're a boss who runs a business, especially your own business, you not only can order around people to do whatever you want, and fire them if you're unhappy with what they're doing -- or fire them for almost any reason -- but at times you should order people around.
You can't do this when you're in politics. You most certainly can't do this if you're a governor. For starters, there's something called a two-party system, and at any given moment, almost half the statehouse, let alone population disagrees with what you're doing and they're working to figure out a way to do it differently. That's why politics has been called "the art of the possible" and requires "the art of compromise." You have to reach across the aisle. You have to balance your interests with those of people you disagree with, let along might even detest. (Even today's GOP in Washington wants compromise -- mind you , they want it all their way, which is why the Congress is so deadlocked. But there's at least an understanding on how the job is supposed to be done, even if they're not willing to do it properly.) You simply can't put out a directive and tell the other party what they must do. You can't order other politicians of the opposing party to act, and unless you deliver an emergency directly you most certainly can't usually order the public to act. There's a massive difference between being The Boss and being a servant of the people.
And you certainly can't snap your fingers and fire a senator or congressman who you want out, even if they're blocking you at every single turn, even if they're the most incompetent person in the world. Unions may exist in both business and government, but civil service employees don't. That's a new reality for those who think they can run a state "like a business."
Differences overlap like an onrushing tidal wave.
Party patronage is the lifeblood of politics. In many ways, it's the fuel that makes politics run. Yet it has no place in business. In business, you pay taxes (okay, unless you're an oil company...). In politics, you determine what taxes should be. In business, you have to make a profit. In government, you may find that running a deficit is the best way to operate. If you own your business, it's yours for as long as you want or can afford it. A job for life. In politics, even if you're doing the most amazingly great job, you still have to ask voters to vote you into office again, every time those pesky elections come around.
To be clear, I have no problem at all with businessmen running for public office. But when you step into the world of politics, you become a politician. That's the job. You are not a CEO.
If you really, truly want to go into politics and run a state or any office like a business, then go find a fascist country and become a dictator. (No, I'm not saying that businessmen are fascists, they aren't, they're capitalists -- just that the only way to actually run a government like a business requires being an authoritarian despot.)
When a candidate says, "I want to to run this state like a business," that's code for -- "I don't have a clue about this job and what it entails and I am destined to fail disastrously." And if you hear that, you should run for the hills.
"I want to run this state like a business."
Swell. Now, imagine if the business they want to run it like is Blockbuster Music, Enron, TWA, Borders, Arthur Anderson, Eastern Airlines, The Warehouse, Crown Books, and Good Guys...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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