Sunday, August 19 , 2018, 7:04 pm | Fair 72º


Mark Shields: Let’s Retire the ‘Run Government Like a Business’ Phrase

The inconsistencies of the modern business world have been monumental

Alan Ginsburg, a historian friend of mine, pointed out that it’s been some time now since we have heard one of the most previously oft-repeated Republican applause lines — the candidate’s or officeholder’s solemn pledge “to run government like a business.”

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

The reasons are obvious why this cliche has disappeared. The villains in American politics have in a single generation gone from “welfare queens in designer jeans” to “corporate welfare kings in chauffered limos,” from the public spotlight on “the deserving poor” to public outrage against “the undeserving rich.”

You won’t hear many Republican politicians today quoting Republican presidents who urged, “Less government in business and more business in government” (President Warren Harding), or asserted that “the business of America is business” (President Calvin Coolidge).

The inconsistencies of the business world and its partisan apologists have been monumental. When profits were sky-high, corporate chiefs and the office-seekers whom they underwrote relentlessly extolled the genius of private enterprise and the untold damage any government regulation could do to it. But when profits go so far south that all the ink is red, business sings a much different tune. “Public-private partnerships ” (aka bailouts) are not only inspired, they are imperative.

If in fact the decision were made “to run government like a business,” which particular business would be the best model? Merrill Lynch or Bank of America? How about JPMorgan or Goldman Sachs? Citigroup could be a possibility, and please give some consideration to Wells Fargo, General Motors and Chrysler.

Enron is probably not the role model we’re looking for. Nor isLehman Brothers or even WorldCom. Or maybe one of those defense contractors that, we learned last week, have piled up cost overruns on weapons programs of $296 billion.

Actually, in this very century we voters did elect our first president with a master’s degree in business administration. President George W. Bush holds an envied MBA from the prestigious Harvard Business School. His commitment to bringing business principles to the running of government was best encapsulated in these words he spoke on Nov. 2, 2000: “They want the federal government controlling Social Security like it’s some kind of federal program.”

Bush’s oval office successor, President Obama, is at least hourly accused by somebody with a microphone of being the architect and engineer of a grand scheme to “socialize” the United States. The truth is that the shyster bankers and the corporate criminals have done more to sabotage public trust and confidence in American business and unfettered free enterprise than all the liberal professors, journalists and populists in shoe leather. The plunderers and profiteers themselves, along with their enablers in public office, are solely responsible for today’s real and widespread outrage against CEOs and their co-conspirators now abroad in the nation.

In his second inaugural address, the only American ever elected president four times, Franklin D. Roosevelt, spoke these still-timely words: “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

You can be sure that no serious Republican (or Democratic) 2010 congressional candidate will run on a promise to make Washington “run the federal government like a business.” Not if she wants to win, that is.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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