Reading David’s piece on Romney’s triangulation as customer service, the “case” for Romney, then, reminds me of the famous quotation from Andrew Bonar Law, British Prime Minister in the early 1920s, that “I am their leader; I must follow them.” Is this really what America needs at a time of economic stagnation, political gridlock, and serious crises abroad?
Yet Romney, a genuinely successful management consultant, would be the first to recognize the problem with David’s analogy of a customer unsatisfied with the fettuccine at the Olive Garden. From a management perspective, yes, of course be polite to the customer, but the fettuccine must be cooked only according to the recipe – otherwise, there is no way to ensure quality control across the different restaurants. After all, this was all planned out long in advance, the recipe tested in our kitchens, and management is merely executing the plan. (By extension, if there is a flaw in the manner of how the recipe is being implemented at that particular restaurant, time to call in the head office, which will set them straight or find another franchisee. Also by extension, mid-course corrections can be notoriously difficult, but a far sight easier in restaurant management than in, for instance, foreign policy.)
Whatever else they stand for, chains like Olive Garden signal to a prospective customer that the experience will be the same no matter where they are. Successful Presidential brands generally do the same. Certainly “Reagan” did. To a large degree, so did “Clinton” and, with some variations, “George W. Bush.” Romney? No, other than a vague association with business success and the Olympics. In politics, he’s only generally known for the Massachusetts health plan bearing strong similarities to Obamacare. (The number of Republicans who think he served two terms – he served only one and declined to run for reelection – is surprising.)
And to pound the analogy flatter than veal scallopine, the next President will have many, many occasions to inform the “customers” that they cannot have what they want precisely how they want it – America simply cannot afford it. Does the next President have the courage to do so? What proof do we have? Customer service and management consulting is a good model to run a company, even a large government agency. (Business leaders work best in government at agencies that bear some similarity to business, such as Social Security or Medicare.) But President? No – the style of leadership we need in a President right now is very different than corporate leadership. It’s far more about negotiation and persuasion than command, control, and organization management, to say nothing of the need for principles beyond customer service during the 3:00 AM phone calls made famous in the last campaign. Prove those things first, to help decide whether someone might make a good President. That’s why Romney’s triangulation on the tax deal – really, on raising taxes during a recession – was so disturbing and why it’s important to know what a person stands for before they become President.