Campaigning in Las Vegas yesterday, Mitt Romney shared an odd anecdote about presidential requirements. I'm still not sure if he was kidding.
The Republican referenced a suggestion from a voter he met recently, who wanted to see a constitutional requirement that presidential candidates "spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States."
Romney didn't explicitly endorse the idea, but he seemed fond of the suggestion, telling his audience, "You see, then he or she would understand that the policies they're putting in place have to encourage small business, make it easier for business to grow."
If Romney's serious about this, it's worth appreciating what we know about history -- plenty of well-regarded modern presidents (Clinton, Reagan, JFK, Eisenhower, and both Roosevelts) were not businessmen before taking office. George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter were successful in business, but far less so in office.
Similarly, U.S. News noted that the three men "widely considered by historians to be the worst presidents of the modern era [are] Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, and George W. Bush." All three "were successful businessmen."
I'm not suggesting there's a causal relationship here, but the point is it's foolish to assume that good businessmen make good presidents when there's so much evidence to the contrary.
Daniel Akst, a columnist for Newsday, consulted with Barbara Perry, a senior fellow at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, to determine the employment background of every president. His conclusion: "It's important to know whether a president has worked in business. It's important because having worked in business is associated with being a lousy president, at least in the modern era."
I don't imagine many voters are aware of the historical record at this level of detail, but for those who care about the facts, Romney's new talking point doesn't make a lot of sense.