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Guest column | James Pettican

Running government as a business lacks give, take of politics

My first recollection of it goes back to 1940 when I was 20 years old and Wendell Willkie, a lawyer and corporate executive, was running for president against FDR. He lost, but the idea has lived on and is a feature of our upcoming Florida primaries.

I'm referring to the idea that the government can be run like a business. Sound familiar? At times, it even sounds convincing but beware! For several fundamental reasons, it wouldn't work. Our presidents are not dictators, but corporate CEOs usually are. Yes, they do have boards of directors but most of them are pretty submissive, fearing that any measure they oppose might turn out to be of great benefit to the company.

In short, successful companies are mostly totalitarian in nature and are designed to be that way. Our planet has its share of totalitarian governments but you wouldn't want to live under one. Been to Libya or North Korea lately?

Politics, it is often said, is the art of persuasion and compromise. In 70 years of observing the political scene, I have found that to be the case. Presidents and governors, if they are successful, soon learn that they must bargain and compromise if their ideas and programs are to see the light of day.

Congress, even if the chief executive enjoys a majority in both houses, is no submissive board of directors. Even in a leader's own party, there are those with pet ideas that must be catered to or resolved. The give and take rarely stops because when it does, progress stops too.

This year's Florida primaries are unusual in that business is trying to take over government on a big scale. Jeff Greene, a billionaire who achieved that status by betting that sub-prime mortgages would fail (they did and Greene got richer) is using his seemingly bottomless wealth pit to run for U.S. Senate or, as some have suggested, buy the office. Rick Scott, a former Columbia-HCA executive, with baggage that includes the largest corporate fraud in Medicare history, is seeking to purchase the office of governor.

Skeptics might say that all politicians buy their offices, in a way, with the huge campaign funds that are raised and spent. The difference is that Scott and Greene, unlike most politicos, don't want to work their way up by holding various lower level public offices. They insist at starting at the top. Are they prepared? In the very few times, they have been in contact with the press so far, both have demonstrated they have a lot to learn and have a very sketchy knowledge of current problems and issues.

If either or both are elected, it might be fun to watch them learn by doing but it is too serious a matter for that. There's no FCAT for politicians, unfortunately. Let's hope that businessmen stay in the business world and let us choose the politicians we want in the political world.

Retired journalist James Pettican lives in Palm Harbor.

Running government as a business lacks give, take of politics 07/31/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 31, 2010 11:38am]
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