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Being a CEO and Being a Senator are Two Very Different Things

NPR’s Ina Jaffe reports on Carly Fiorina’s race against California’s Barbara Boxer for her Senate seat:

“When you have people like Barbara Boxer in Washington, D.C., for 28 years, who thinks that all answers are there — how can they possibly know what is going on?” Fiorina asks the crowd. [...]

After the event, Fiorina says it’s her private-sector experience, whether in the typing pool or the corner office, that makes her especially suited for the Senate.

“I think it would help tremendously to have a senator that knows where jobs come from, that knows how to create them, that knows how to bring them back and, importantly, knows what it means to manage billions of dollars’ worth of expenses and cut billions of dollars’ worth of expenses,” she says.

Fiorina, like Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, is the latest in a long line of businesspeople-turned-politicians, whose claim to competence is their private-sector experience. Fiorina says that she knows how to “create jobs,” but creating jobs as a CEO and creating jobs as a senator are vastly different things. As CEO, you have the power and prerogative to hire and fire, create and restructure. Quite literally, your decisions have a direct impact on nearly every person you employ. By contrast, a freshman senator — even one from the nation’s largest state — has minimal influence, doubly so if she’s in the minority party. As CEO, you can unilaterally direct your underlings to implement your will. As senator, you don’t have underlings outside of your staff, and whatever power you accumulate comes from negotiation, compromise and a keen understanding of the rules. Skills acquired as a CEO might be useful in some areas, but not many.

The same goes for CEOs aspiring to executive office; business leaders don’t have to deal with hundreds of competing interests and factions, while a governor does. That’s not to say that a business leader can’t be a successful governor, but those entering office without a firm knowledge of the clear differences between leading a state and managing a business are in for an unpleasant surprise.

Of course, none of this is to say that Fiorina wouldn’t be a good senator, or that Whitman wouldn’t be a good governor. But that the claims of CEO-politicians notwithstanding, business experience has little to do with the business of governing and legislating.

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