An Historical Paradigm

Mitt Romney’s smile

The Erstwhile Conservative has written an interesting post about an aspect of Mitt Romney’s character as revealed by his failures to correct unfair disparagements of his rival during political gatherings. A woman in one incident accused President Obama of “treason”. This incident offers a snapshot into Mr. Romney’s character and Duane was right to recall an instance in which John McCain defended his rival’s character from a snarky comment. That was one of the few instances in which I saw the old McCain surface, the McCain I thought I knew but who was swallowed up by hubris.

I agree with Duane that Romney’s failure to deal properly with such things indicates a lack of political courage, but it’s more than that I think. Consistent with his flip-flopping on issues I sense a persona that is overly cautious. He wants to consolidate his positions while giving nothing away, and he wants to do that in the comfort of privacy.  He distrusts his own instincts. In any confrontation he displays a strange little smile which, I sense, is a facade behind which he is plotting, as data on a spread sheet. Because of this behavior we have been denied a glimpse of the real Romney, I think, except for a few occasions. One was the debate in which he offered a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry. The message of that seems to be that for him, money is preeminent in all matters political.

So much of a president’s job is image and leadership, so I have concerns about a candidate who may be overly cautious and calculating. I recently read in a new book, “The Presidents Club”, about a previous president who was something like that, and this insight into his character surprised me.

Herbert Hoover - NARA - 532049

Herbert Hoover – NARA – 532049 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Herbert Hoover was, before the depression of course, widely considered a management genius, confident, capable, calculating, efficient, inflexible. He had a proven track record, running large business projects successfully and with great efficiency. But, as we all know, when it came to persona, imagination and political leadership, he failed miserably. The parallel is remarkable, the historic paradigm for the difference between running a business and running a government.

The opening chapter of the book is available at for kindle, pc or mac. It describes how after VE Day President Truman called upon a grateful Hoover to apply his management skills to the daunting task of saving a ravaged Europe from starvation. It was the kind of project he could handle, and therein lies the cautionary tale.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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8 Responses to An Historical Paradigm

  1. I think you hit it on the head, Jim, when you wrote,

    The parallel is remarkable, the historic paradigm for the difference between running a business and running a government.

    Managing a government is much different from running profit-making businesses and it requires at least a philosophical flexibility that many business folks don’t normally possess.
    Hoover, I don’t think, was a bad guy. He was what we would call today a small “c” conservative, who believed the solution to the Depression was to be primarily found in individual (and business) confidence and initiative, as opposed to government fiddling around with the economy.  He tried at times, to slightly modify what you suggested on my blog, to find the middle philosophical road between laissez-faire and command economies.
    But he seemed to have a misplaced loyalty to conservative fiscal ideology, including balanced budgets, which was especially crippling in a time when government spending was necessary to bridge the fiscal gap (that sounds familiar, no?).
    If he could have escaped his predetermined prescriptions for what ailed us in the early 1930s, perhaps history would have judged him much differently.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Indeed, I was struck by the story of Truman’s friendship with Hoover, a friendship that started the “Presidents Club” and which endured the rest of their lives.


  2. ansonburlingame says:

    I agree that there is a big difference between “governing” and running a business. However many of the attributes of “running a business” are applicable to “running a government”. There is a difference however, again, between wise governing and running a government.

    Wise governing has its roots in political philosophy which is much deeper and more complex that the mechanics of running a government. Our Founders were by and large extraordinary political philosophers rather than simple “good businessmen”. Good businessmen make profits. Good “governors” have a grasp of political philosophy such as how “equality” and “freedom and liberty” can coexist in a community.

    As well the POWER of government is far more pervasive, potentially, that the rules of business. The worst that business can do is “fire” someone. Government can hang your butt!

    Don’t like your job and you can quit anytime you so choose. But that is not an option of citizens in a country, by and large.

    Our biggest issue in America today, politically, is our economy. It is not growing enough to suit anyone, liberal or conservative. Good businessmen should be experts in growing things economically. There is the difference, in my view, between Obama and Romney. Call it ideaology vs pragmatism in an economic sense.

    As for Romney’s flip flopping, I agree that we have yet to see the “real” Romney. He had to survive the mob on the radical right to gain the nomination. However my sense of his character is that he in fact has some core principles, just like Obama, that will be shown as the campaign progresses.

    Look at the flip flopping by Obama on same sex marriage as an example. There was never any doubt in my mind that the core issue of equality for Obama would ultimately prevail in his position on that matter. Now he has combined his own political calculations with his “core” and reached a decision on that hot potatoe issue, today. Romney’s “core” is shown as well to oppose a federal mandate to “force” acceptance of same sex marriage by all States.

    There we see two distinctly different “cores” on an issue of political philosophy, not a disagreement on how to “run” a government which relates to spending more than you make, etc.



  3. Alan Scott says:

    So Mitt Romney is the new Herbert Hoover ? As in Romney would be worse than Obama on the Economy. Both Romney and Hoover , management gurus must be the same . We already know that Obama is the new Jimmy Carter . ‘

    Getting back to Hoover, he only had 4 years to deal with the Depression . I don’t think FDR’s first 4 years were that much better. He just was better at telling everyone he was doing a wonderful job . In fact other than the disasterous Smoot-Hawley Act, Hoover did much of the same things to combat the Depression that FDR did .


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ Alan,

      There is no doubt that the Great Depression had put the U.S. in crisis so deep that nobody knew what to do about it. William Manchester’s “The Glory and the Dream” (Vol. 1, Ch. 2) is wonderfully descriptive of both Hoover and Roosevelt during the period of transition. While it is apparent that neither man had a lock on a sure strategy, the differences in style and leadership between the two men are remarkable. Hoover, on the brink of a breakdown, was so distraught and so fearful of what strategies Roosevelt might try that he wrote him a letter demanding that when Roosevelt got into office that he not change any government programs!

      I was simply pointing out in this post that the differences in style between Romney and Obama may be similar to those between Hoover and Roosevelt. I find it telling that Roosevelt could tell the nation, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”, and the nation believed him. Is there a Herbert Hoover personality within Romney? Leadership is important and so far, for me, he is a tabula rasa.


  4. Alan Scott says:


    You are saying that Romney would crack in a crisis, yet other than a superficial similarity in style to President Herbert Hoover, you cite zero evidence . Governor Romney is as experienced as most candidates have ever been in entering the Presidency . He was a Governor, a businessman, he turned around a winter Olympics that was failing . Contrast that with President Obama who has had to learn how to be a Chief Executive on the job .

    You could argue that President Obama is now experienced and finally ready for the job after 3 and a half years of studying in the school of hard knocks . You could argue it, but what evidence could you cite that he has learned anything ? FDR also was a former Governor. Also trust me, BHO is no FDR . More than half the nation no longer believes his BS .


  5. ansonburlingame says:


    You describe fairly accurately the “mood” or our nation today. Since 9/11 Americans have sought effective leadership..Initially about 80% of the country supported Bush, including his invasion of Iraq. But since then many citizens have lost confidence in our national leadership. As a nation we are “floundering”, looking for a person that the vast majority can support, politically, and that person has yet to arise.

    War was the greated divider in Bush’s last term. The economy has caused the same division in Obama’s first term along with continued frustration over wars the even Obama cannot extract us from, effectively. The best that Obama can do for now is say “bear with me”.

    Do people really believe Obama has us headed in the correct direction? Not that I sense. Do people believe that Romney can put us on a different but correct path? Not that I sense, yet.

    When countries lose wars that are fought witning their borders, people die and the remainder are terrified. When economies crash, people become very angry and lash out in every direction possible, blaming others for their financial plights. That is America today in the latter case, the poor economic case. The blame game covers just about every segement of society, one segment against the other.

    When such political chaos erupts the only solution that I have seen, historically is effective leadership in democracies or strong dictatorship in other forms of government.

    I believe we face a far greater challenge in America today than just choosing between Obama and Romney. No matter which one wins, the problems we face are monumental in the coming years. In those years we will have neither the political will nor the financial resources to wage wars. That will create untold geopolitical pressues on America and the world that no one can grasp today.

    As well there is the looming cliff, economically when no lenders are available to bail out western democracies that cannot control their domestic spending. Imagine the “state of America” if no lenders could be found to sustain our deficits. Crash, a loud one, would be heard around the world if that ever happened.



  6. Alan Scott says:


    I have to disagree . If you look at what the wars cost and ask is that what is causing our decline, I say no . The current President has demogogued our real problem . He has refused to even face it . He has attacked and lied about anyone who has had the political courage to address it .

    Our problem is entitlements, end of story . Wars are a convenient excuse for doing nothing . Wars end. Entitlements never do .

    Europe is instructive . They have had a free ride on us . We are their defense shield . With all of the money they have saved not defending themselves since WW2, why are they in more trouble than us ? They are further down the entitlement Socialist SuperHighway to ruin . California isn’t any better. 11% unemployment and a $ 16 Billion deficit .

    I don’t think Romney even has to be as great as Ronald Reagan was to pull us out of our Jimmy Carter-like malaise . His biggest problem will be Democrats in Congress and left over Kommisars in the bureacracy .

    We have to stop lying about where the real money is being spent .


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