I didn’t see tonight’s debate, and haven’t read any account of it other than Paul’s. (I deleted the 50 or 60 emails that came in to my Blackberry from the campaigns.) So I have nothing to say about tonight’s event, but do have some broader comments on the general subject of politics and business.
I know many successful businessmen, and a number of successful politicians. In my experience, businessmen generally think that they are smarter and tougher than politicians. “Smarter” goes without saying, “tougher” means that they interpret politicians’ equivocations and changes of position as weakness. I think the businessmen are wrong on both counts. Successful politicians, on the average, are both “smarter,” i.e. abler, and tougher than successful businessmen.
In the business world, Mitt Romney is as successful as anyone can be. No one attains his level of achievement without enormous talents and an oversized ego. Yet, compared to John McCain, Romney is modest and self-effacing. As a businessman among politicians, he is a boy among men.
Politics attracts the most ambitious and ruthless of men. (That’s the real reason why, at its upper levels, politics, much more than business, is dominated by men, not women.) In many countries, men with unnatural appetites go into politics because if they are successful, they will be able to have the people they don’t like shot. Here in America, we don’t shoot our political losers, and politics is not just a variety of organized crime. Still, many of the same sorts of people are attracted to it.
Businessmen, in my experience, are generally more idealistic than politicians. Businessmen really do make deals with a handshake. No one would dream of doing that with Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or the Clintons. Turning a businessman loose in the political world is basically a mismatch. That’s the sense I get of McCain’s reaction to having Romney as his last serious rival. He can’t believe his good fortune; Romney is an amateur. McCain can poke him in the eye, knee him in the groin, and the rule-following businessman has no idea how to respond.
I don’t view this as an argument in Romney’s favor. As President, he wouldn’t be dealing with honorable, law-abiding businesspeople. He would be going up against the Vladimir Putins, Osama bin Ladens and Harry Reids of the world. This is not a game for amateurs. I think we should recognize that professional politicians bring important experience and skills to the table, and that one of those skills is the ability to knee an opponent in the groin and get away with it. It’s not pretty. But, compared to politics, business is beanbag, and politics is the game the Republican nominee will have to play.
PAUL adds: Self-control is an important quality in all leaders including political and business leaders. When presidents lack self-control their presidency often ends badly. Last night, John McCain showed very little self-control.
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