Do We Need a Manager in the White House?

There are only two major Republicans who are absolutely, positively running for president in 2012, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. And Romney is honing his pitch:

I don't know who all's going to get in the race but I do believe that it would be helpful if at least one of the people in the Republican field had extensive experience in the private sector, in small business, in big business, working with the economy. Because frankly not just solving the near-term problems of unemployment -- people not getting checks -- is going to require someone with that experience but also long-term, we've got to have a strong economic foundation to make sure we can stay ahead of the challenges we face like a growing China and a militarily aggressive China.

Romney can legitimately claim to be the only candidate with extensive business experience (though running Palin, Inc., is surely no small task). I've argued at length before that the idea that business experience translates to successful governing is baloney, but Mitt might argue that this is as much a management problem as a policy problem, and he's particularly well-suited for the former. In other words, anybody can propose a bunch of economic policies, but only Mitt can oversee their implementation with the requisite dexterity.

I wouldn't really buy this, either, but it's worth exploring. The first question Romney needs to be asked is what economic policies he's proposing. If it's just the standard "lower taxes and less regulation!", then you'd have to ask why this brilliant strategy didn't work under George W. Bush, who pursued it with a vengeance, leading to what will eventually be known as the "lost decade" of the 2000s, in which job growth was anemic, we went from surpluses to deficits, and the stage was set for the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But whatever Mitt proposes, the next question ought to be, "And why is it that only you can oversee the implementation of this tax cut?", or whatever it is.

Many of the things government does require active implementation -- Medicare, for instance, is a program that can be run well or poorly. A lot of the things government does on the economic side, however, involve giving the market a nudge that you expect will have some effect. So if you pass a tax cut, the tax cut gets passed, and then you just say, "I hope this works," and wait to see if it does. And given that the GOP is the party that wants less government involvement in the economy, the need for a crackerjack manager would seem even less acute.

This has been another installment in my ongoing series, "Questions I Wish Big-Time Reporters Would Ask Politicians, But That They Almost Certainly Won't."

-- Paul Waldman

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