Deatho­facliché

Men­tion­ing busi­ness as lighting the way for politi­cians th­ese days is akin to shout­ing “Re­mem­ber the Alamo!” in a crowd of His­pan­ics.

The Covington News - - Opinion -

Some­thing is miss­ing from this year’s elec­tion cam­paign cy­cle. No prin­ci­pal can­di­date from ei­ther ma­jor party has dared use that trusted cliché of past stump speeches: “Elect me, and I’ll run your gov­ern­ment like a busi­ness.”

Per­haps candidates stopped us­ing the phrase be­cause busi­ness — at least big busi­ness— doesn’t en­joy the pop­u­lar­ity and ad­mi­ra­tion that it once did.

Looking back at a long list of suc­cess­ful Ge­or­gia politi­cians, I find that gov­er­nors from Joe Frank Har­ris and Ge­orge Bus­bee through trial lawyer Roy Barnes and now Sonny Per­due promised to use busi­ness as a model for re­form­ing state gov­ern­ment.

Then, out of the blue, it dawned on some bright con­sul­tant that com­par­ing gov­ern­ment with cor­po­ra­tions may not be such a won­der­ful idea. See En­ron, WorldCom, Lehman Broth­ers, Bear Stearns and AIG for starters. Men­tion­ing busi­ness as lighting the way for politi­cians th­ese days is akin to shout­ing “Re­mem­ber the Alamo!” in a crowd of His­pan­ics. How­ever, rip­pingWall Street is bound to get a good round of ap­plause.

The cur­rent Com­mis­sion for a New Ge­or­gia was organized six years ago to ap­ply busi­ness prin­ci­ples to Ge­or­gia gov­ern­ment. Its charge has not ex­actly worked out. Com­mis­sion mem­bers dreamed up the idea of the state spending $600,000 on an air­plane hangar lease, while clos­ing a home for vet­er­ans. Ge­or­gia’s bud­get gu­rus missed es­ti­mat­ing the state bud­get by a shock­ing 13 per­cent— or $2.5 to $3 bil­lion. That is peanuts com­pared to the feds’ tril­lion or so dol­lars in debt, but the deficit is sig­nif­i­cant for li’l old Ge­or­gia and its $20 bil­lion an­nual bud­get.

For­mer Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fio­r­ina, de­scribed as “the face of McCain’s eco­nomic team,” was asked last week on a ra­dio talk show whether she thought the Repub­li­cans’ hugely pop­u­lar vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Sarah Palin had the ex­pe­ri­ence to run a ma­jor cor­po­ra­tion like Hewlett-Packard.

No, said Fio­r­ina, then she re­al­ized she should not have said that about Palin. So she has­tened to add that nei­ther does John McCain, Barack Obama or Joe Bi­den have the ex­pe­ri­ence to head a gi­ant com­pany. She as­serted that serv­ing gov­ern­ment is dif­fer­ent from manag­ing a cor­po­ra­tion. Didn’t much mat­ter what she said af­ter the Palin gaffe. McCain was said to be fu­ri­ous, and Fio­r­ina was sent to the show­ers as a cam­paign spokesper­son and told to stay off TV and ra­dio.

Just as the se­lec­tion of Palin says some­thing about McCain, maybe the pick of Fio­r­ina does too. Just be­cause Fio­r­ina spear­headed HP’s merger with Com­paq and cut 18,000 jobs doesn’t make her the ar­biter of whether politi­cians are fit to run busi­nesses, does it?

Zell Miller and Bill Clin­ton’s ad­viser Paul Be­gala had a few choice words for Fio­r­ina in his new book, “Third Term: Why Ge­orge W. Bush Loves John McCain.”

Be­gala re­ferred to Fio­r­ina as “the poster child for cor­po­rate avarice, in­com­pe­tence and out­sourc­ing.” Call­ing her the “out­sourc­ing queen,” Be­gala quotes Jef­frey Son­nen­feld, late of Emory, now of Yale: “You couldn’t pick a worse, non-im­pris­oned CEO to be your stan­dard bearer.”

Well, maybe you could. How about Bob Nardelli, for­merly of Home De­pot? With Nardelli at the helm, Home De­pot’s stock price lan­guished while do-it-your­self ri­val Lowe’s shares dou­bled in value. Nardelli fi­nally ex­ited Home De­pot with a $210 mil­lion sev­er­ance pack­age, a lot more than Fio­r­ina’s pal­try $21 mil­lion fir­ing bonus from Hewlett-Packard.

In any event, the great-sound­ing false idea that gov­ern­ment can be run like a busi­ness fi­nally ap­pears dead and not likely to be re­vived for an­other gen­er­a­tion or two when the cur­ren­tWall Street de­ba­cle is barely a foot­note to his­tory (I hope).

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