In last week’s presidential debate, Mitt Romney said he will make a great president because he is a businessman and has run companies. He might know how to make a profit, and possibly balance a budget like he promises. But running a country is not just about balancing the budget – which, by the way, Romney likely wouldn’t be able to do any better than President Obama – and it is definitely not about making a profit.
President Obama is not trying to run America like a company. He has a background in community organizing, and he is trying to run the country like a community, like a family, a household. A nation is not just a material system of capital, investment, and revenue. It directly affects the human lives of each and every American. Households are invested in every family member, as their shared living space, culture, history, and lineage binds them together for life. In companies, on the other hand, employers and employees are generally tied together only by monetary relationships.
A few years ago, I met a member of the Pan-African Parliament at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. We had a conversation about how to encourage women to participate in politics. She said that when she talks to women living in the villages in her country, they typically respond that politics is not for them, as they “only” know how to run a household. The member of Parliament then told them that if they can run a household, they can run a country.
Think about it: you have to work together and negotiate with your spouse or partner to make decisions and get things done (bi-partisanship), understand and respond to the needs of the various family members (constituencies), and do so strategically with limited resources (budgeting, redistribution, long-term investments).
This is President Obama's strength. Sure, he hasn’t been a perfect president — if such a thing exists — but I trust him as a leader. I believe he truly cares about all constituencies, especially those who have traditionally been disenfranchised.
President Obama understands the strategic, long-term social and economic benefits of investing in quality education, efficient universal health care, healthy lifestyles, fair distribution of resources, and respect and equal rights for every individual. He understands that a country is only as strong as its weakest link. He understands that leveling the playing field for everyone facilitates equal opportunity and empowerment for individuals, as well as for the entire country. He understands that creativity, innovation, and progress are promoted by leveraging our rich diversity. His commitments and policies regarding health care, gender equality, poverty, education, and immigration, for instance, give us the feeling that he is everyone’s president.
Former Governor Romney, on the other hand, recently made it very clear that it is not his job to be concerned about 47% of Americans. He implied that almost half of the country does not take responsibility for itself, and that he won’t be able to convince it otherwise. But most people want nothing more than to be economically independent, The fact that some are not is more a reflection of social inequalities than of their characters. As most parents know, to raise your children to be self-sufficient and productive members of society, they need to develop skills and gain knowledge. They need to be invested in. They need opportunities for personal and professional development.
As David Brooks of the New York Times argues, "People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation."
Deprivation of opportunity —an unleveled playing field — does not create self-sufficiency. It actually fosters dependency on others, including on the government. For all the conservative rhetoric about economic self-sufficiency and individual freedom, President Obama seems to get this logic better than his opponent, with a long-term plan to empower all Americans and with strategic budget decisions that will set us on the road to economic recovery, deficit reduction, and a more equitable society.
Republicans say they so greatly value “the family as the cornerstone of society,” yet they disregard the factors that promote economically independent, educated, healthy, and thriving individuals and families. By not raising taxes, cutting capital gains, and reducing the corporate income tax, Romney is catering to big business and the wealthy, and their mutual interest in making a profit. Like companies, Republicans are focused on their own bottom line and the bottom lines of those they consider stakeholders in the conservative political ideology, rather than on the empowerment of all the American people.
I’m sure Mitt Romney is a wonderful husband and father. It just doesn’t seem like he would be a true family man when it comes to 100% of the American family.