Not so in the White House. A president must regularly communicate through the mess of democracy’s many, and often contradictory and imperfect, filters. His voice and message are heard through the traditional media, blogs, his political party, the opposing party and outside organizations (which often spend hundreds of millions of dollars with the singular objective of discrediting both the message and the messenger). Except when he is delivering the infrequent televised address to the nation, the president has almost no direct channel of communications to the American electorate.
Finally: control. While serving as the benevolent dictator CEO, Cain likely had very few checks on his power inside his own organization. While the board could remove him, there were few other explicit limits to his authority and ability to direct his company. He could hire and fire at will, make investment and growth decisions, and chart the organization’s course.
The presidency, for all of its trappings and genuine levers of power and influence, is a far more constrained position. President Truman predicted President-elect Eisenhower’s inevitable frustration when he swapped his Army stars for the Oval Office: “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen.”
How is a president’s power checked? By Congress, which must act on legislation, judicial nominations and hundreds of appointments to the president’s own team; by independent agencies, which can regulate without his approval; by the GAO and other watchdog agencies, which provide oversight of his administration’s decisions; by agency inspectors general, which operate outside his influence; by the vast federal bureaucracy itself, with its Dickensian complexity and tenured civil servants; and ultimately by the entire judicial branch, which by its very design can nullify his decisions.
Some CEOs have taken a look at the job and decided it wasn’t for them. Donald Trump found that being the dictator, whose main job was to publicly fire his so-called apprentices, better suited his flamboyant style and seemed a more fun, if not more important, task than running for president. That leaves Herman Cain who, if he somehow manages to get elected, would find out that being president just isn’t remotely the same as being The Godfather.
Jonathan Cowan is the president of Third Way and the former chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
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