Gingrich the Entrepreneur

            Republicans may be refining the idea of what business competence means. The party has long cherished expertise gathered in the marketplace over mere political skill or experience.  But there was an interesting nuance introduced in a Washington Post article about Newt Gingrich, published today, which suggests that the ideal of the man of commerce may not be monolithic.

            In an article exploring concerns about Gingrich’s leadership during his years a Speaker of the House, former Congressman Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) praised the fast-rising presidential contender for getting “a plane that hadn’t flown in 40 years to fly.” But he went on to say that the plane then flew erratically, up, down, left, right, raising questions about Gingrich’s leadership skills.

            “Newt is an entrepreneur more than he’s a manager,” says Shays.

            Interesting. Is there a distinction forming between the self-made man (entrepreneurial skill) and the technocratic leader (managerial expertise)? The former implies risk taking, vision and a willingness to fail; the latter suggests steadiness, competence and professionalism.

            Genuine success in business no doubt requires both skill sets, and there are many cases in which the entrepreneurial founder  of a corporation eventually finds himself sidelined by business-school types after the start up grows bigger than the founder’s ability to manage it.

            Both skill sets are idealized by the political parties that dominate U.S. politics, but the Democratic Party, of late, has stressed managerial competence while the Republican Party idealizes the self-made man. The rise of candidates such as Herman Cain (which skill set was primary on his résumé?) and Gingrich may require more subtle thinking about just exactly what the Republican Party wants to valorize in the commercial sector. And that will give importance clues about how it conceives of the presidency.

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