Our Nitwit CEOs

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Begala

What the smart guys don't understand about politics.

Businesspeople are fond of saying politicians don't know anything about business. While in the main that is true, the opposite is also true: business geniuses are often political numskulls.

Case in point: the Campaign to Fix the Debt--a dream team of CEOs, including registered Democrats like Goldman Sachs's Lloyd Blankfein and Honeywell CEO (and Obama supporter) David Cote. These are smart people. Smart enough that they can grasp the fiscally obvious: America must pay down its debt. And it can only do so through a combination of increased revenue and restrained spending.

So far so good. Fix the Debt should follow the lead of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who campaigns for higher taxes for upper-income Americans. Buffett's courage, clarity, and common sense make it easier for Republicans to do the responsible thing. After all, Buffett is hardly a Marxist. Drawing on decades of experience during which he made billions, Buffett notes that when both capital-gains and income-tax rates were much higher than today, the economy boomed.

This is elementary. And yet some of the platinum-plated CEOs currently sounding off about the politics of debt reduction don't seem to understand their role. Instead of patriotically calling on their fellow millionaires to pay a little more, they are lecturing the poor and the middle class on the need to cut entitlements, and even A-advocating--get this--zero taxes on corporations. That's right, zero. Honeywell's Cote has actually called for a corporate tax rate of zilch-point-nada. As the great political mind Homer Simpson might say, "D'oh!"

Millionaire CEOs calling for higher taxes on the rich is Nixon to China. Millionaire CEOs calling for cutting health care for the elderly while eliminating taxes on corporate profits is more like Mao to China. They no doubt have their hearts in the right place. Debt is a major long-term challenge, and the cost of Medicare and Medicaid has exploded, as has private-sector health care.

But what Blankfein, Cote, and other business titans don't seem to grasp is that struggling seniors or families with a special-needs child are not eager to hear CEOs tell them, as Blankfein recently did, "You're going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people's A-expectations--the entitlements and what people think that they're going to get, because . …