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Not true, Mitt Romney: History shows business experience doesn't make a good president

Mitt Romney has derided President Obama for lacking the business experience he claimed as 'essential to his task.' That's a popular GOP message, but it's not true. America's best-rated presidents weren't businessmen, and those with the most business success rank among the worst.

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Mitt Romney addresses delegates at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 30. Mr. Romney faulted President Obama's lack of experience in business, calling it 'essential to his task.' Op-ed contributor Jonathan Zimmerman says that 'it’s simply false to say that a business background is 'essential' to succeeding as a president.'

David Goldman/AP

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Good presidents need experience in the business world, right? Wrong. Of all the GOP’s campaign-season talking points, this one is the easiest to debunk.

The assumption was on vivid display at last week’s Republican National Convention, where nominee Mitt Romney – a former private equity manager – contrasted his resume to President Obama’s. “He took office without the most basic qualification that most Americans have and one that was essential to his task,” Romney said, criticizing Mr. Obama. “He had almost no experience working in a business.”

But it’s simply false to say that a business background is “essential” to succeeding as a president. Since 1900, only five of our 20 presidents had significant business experience when they entered the White House: Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and the two Bushes.

Notably missing are the figures whom Americans routinely identify as the best 20th-century presidents: Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. Of the businessmen-presidents, indeed, only Truman usually makes it into pollsters’ Top Ten. And he was the worst businessman of the lot.

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