Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't Run the Country Like a Business

In political campaigns, you often hear candidates promise that they will run the country like a business. To me, that’s almost a disqualifier.

I live in New Jersey’s Third Congressional District, and the two major party candidates are running for a seat being vacated by the retirement of a former NFL football player.

The Republican candidate is an insurance CEO (who lives 90 miles outside the district) and touts his business experience as a reason why the people of the district should send him to Washington. To me, being a successful businessman has about as much relevance as being an NFL offensive tackle when it comes to my vote.

As we see every day, the job of a lawmaker is to be persuasive and build consensus. While I’m sure some business people have these skills, most of the time businesspeople, especially CEOs, operate like a military unit where orders are given, followed, and are rarely questioned. That’s not how Congress works, especially for a freshman. Orders are not given, but rather compromise, consensus, and common ground are sought. These qualities are not often seen in the leadership of the business world.

Often, when candidates say they will run government like a business, they allude to handling money and finances smartly and operating at a profit. In fact, for most businesses, profit is the one and only criterion for making important decisions. That’s why we see so many businesses with low wages, offshore outsourcing, and flimsy quality controls. That’s not how Congress or the government should work. The government is not there to make a profit. It’s there to serve the people. And as far as prudent handling of money is concerned, especially in the financial services industry, there are companies like AIG and others that have demonstrated their leaders’ lack of good judgment or even ethics. Any prudence that is exhibited by these CEOs is primarily due to consumer protection laws and strict accounting standards, things business executives typically lobby to relax, not make stricter.

So if successful CEOs are not a priori good candidates for congressional office, who is?

My answer is those people who are successful leaders of volunteer charitable organizations.

Their success is based on persuasion – the ability to make a case for others to part with their money or time. They do this not for compensation, but because they want the country to be a better place. These are qualities we need in members of Congress.

We’re fortunate here in New Jersey’s Third Congressional District to have such a candidate running on the Democratic ticket. Aimee Belgard is a defense attorney by profession, but has spent most of her adult life as a volunteer executive for the American Cancer Society. She has raised funds for medical research and patient care. Certainly this has required persuasion skills, persistence, and the ability to show people what’s in it for them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such qualities could be brought to the House of Representatives?

Belgard has also demonstrated these skills as an elected official in her role as a member of the county board of Freeholders. As one of only two Democrats on a five-member board, she has shown her ability to work with the GOP majority, strive for common ground, and make significant accomplishments. In fact, her GOP counterparts have given her the ultimate complement – they have taken credit for several of the programs that Belgard has initiated.

So be wary when a candidate tells you he’ll run the country like a business. That’s like an NFL tackle telling you he’ll remove your spleen. It can be done, but there are unpleasant consequences.

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