Who is the “reality-based” presidential candidate? Part One

One of the American left’s most persistent self-congratulatory themes is the claim that, unlike the right, its views aren’t based on ideology, but rather on facts. Indeed, the left likes to call itself the “reality-based” community, so data-driven does it fancy its position to be.

The delusional nature of this pose is a subject for another post. It is also, I understand, a subject of Jonah Goldberg’s new book, The Tyranny of Cliches. For now, let us ask which of this year’s presidential candidates – Mitt Romney or President Obama – is more a man of facts and data.

Mitt Romney earned both an MBA and a law degree from Harvard through its MBA/JD program. He graduated with honors from the law school and was a Baker scholar at the business school, a distinction reserved for the top 5 percent of the class.

In The Real Romney, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman write:

Academically, the law school was more theoretical, the business school more practical. Harvard Law School. . .relied largely on textbooks and instruction. The business school revolved around the case study method, in which students dissected real life business decisions to learn to think like managers and executives.

After graduating, Romney plunged into the world of business consulting. His job, according to Kranish and Helman, entailed analyzing mountains of financial data with an eye to lowering costs, improving production, and gaining market share. Romney’s success in this “intensely analytical and data-driven” endeavor “rapidly established [him] as a rising star.”

Romney then moved into the world of high-stakes investing, focusing at first mostly on start-ups. This required rigorous analysis of every aspect of the business of those companies targeted for possible investment, in order to assess its prospects for success. Sound analysis would likely be rewarded by huge gains; poor analysis, by huge losses. It doesn’t get much more reality-based than that.

But venture capitalists must speculate to some degree. If the business doesn’t exist yet, data can only take one so far in assessing its prospects for success. Romney’s next field of endeavor, the world of leveraged buyouts, was, if anything, even more data-driven. Here, the issue wasn’t whether a new idea would pan out, but whether the numbers worked. For the companies Romney invested in, they usually did.

As head of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and Governor of Massachusetts, Romney naturally relied on the same skill that helped elevate him to these positions – his ability, as he puts it, “to wallow in the data.” If he wins in November, Romney will have a claim to being the most data-oriented President in our history.

At a minimum, as I will show in Part Two, he will have an airtight case that he is far more data-oriented than his predecessor, Barack Obama.

JOHN adds: Romney’s time at Harvard overlapped with mine, but I didn’t know him then. No surprise there: I was single and living in the dorms, while he was already married and had a kid or two. But Mitt is fundamentally a numbers guy. In business, it is all about the numbers: if they don’t work, you go broke. Reality is a constant constraint. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has never had to deal with reality in an economic sense. He is a BS artist, plain and simple. So it is no wonder that he has driven the country $5 trillion closer to collapse. He has little idea how the world works, and you see that every day in his administration’s failures. As for data, the only data Obama has any interest in are those that relate to his own re-election.