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  xFriday, July 19, 2002

For example, this New Republic article points out that Bush critics may be missing the point in focusing on possible wrongdoing while the President was making money at a series of failed businesses. It contains this juicy little paragraph:
Throughout his political career, Bush has cited his experience in corporate America as proof that he understands the world of business and is, by extension, a capable steward of the American economy. But if the "charitable" explanation for Bush's explanation is true--if Bush really had no idea about Harken's troubled finances--it casts the president's business experience in a far less flattering light, whatever the legal implications. Put simply, more important than whether Bush is guilty of insider trading, his Harken past shows him to be either lazy, or stupid, or both.

TNR's Michelle Cottle follows up with this blast at Bush and his veep:
Remember all that nauseating talk during the campaign about how these guys had been "out there" in the real world, running businesses, creating jobs, making money for America? Sure, George W. didn't have much political experience, we were told, but look at all his years as an entrepreneur. A hard-charging oilman! A successful sports entrepreneur! The claims on Cheney were even more audacious. Although he had spent just a few years in the private sector--after a quarter century as a political hack--campaign supporters touted him as some sort of super executive. "He's as top-notch a businessman as he is a statesman," Roger Enrico, CEO of PepsiCo, told USA Today back in July 2000. With all the gushing about Cheney's tenure at Halliburton, you'd have thought the guy was Lee Iaccoca.

In reality, both Bush and Cheney were lousy businessmen. Their rise through the corporate ranks had nothing to do with financial or management acumen--and everything to do with cronyism and a gift for exploiting their insider status. By now, we're all familiar with the sad tale of how young W. had to have Poppy's friends bail him out of his spectacularly failed career as an oilman. And as not one, but two, columns in yesterday's New York Times op-ed page helpfully reminded us, it was family connections and political conflicts of interest that allowed him to buy and run the Texas Rangers baseball club. Now, as the story of Halliburton unfolds, it looks as though Cheney's much ballyhooed (and obscenely compensated) performance as CEO was largely a matter of smoke, mirrors, and cooked books. Far from a business whiz, Cheney was at best an average company steward, at worst an incompetent one.

It's not as though this news should shock anyone. Since way back on the campaign trail, a few critics have been pointing out the absurdity of allowing Bush and Cheney to paint themselves as savvy execs (although some parts of the Halliburton didn't become clear until more recently). But in recent years, with the New Economy making millionaires of us all, corporate executives have been regarded with an awe once reserved for gods and rock stars. (All hail Jack Welch!) Anyone with even weak ties to the business world could convince us of their inherent genius. Even now, we keep hearing about how Bush is "our first MBA president." Oooo, really? An MBA! How special for all of us.

Bottom line: Bush and Cheney don't have a clue how to succeed in business without inside connections, powerful friends, and the sorts of gray-area accounting acrobatics we're now expecting the administration to control. That's why, far from wishing the president or vice president would take a more active role in the current push to reform corporate behavior, I'm hoping they clear out and let someone else tackle the job. From what we know about these guys' business track records, I wouldn't trust them to manage my child's milk money--not because I question their ethics, but because I question their competence.