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Getting to the PowerPoint

If Mitt Romney wins the White House, Americans may have a less than exciting prospect on their hands: Oval Office PowerPoint presentations. President Bush may be the first MBA president, but Romney is even more steeped in the culture of business, having worked as a management consultant and then run a venture capital firm for most of his adult life. In laying out his vision for health care reform in a speech today in Hollywood, Florida to the Florida Medical Association's annual meeting, the former Massachusetts governor will follow an outline from a PowerPoint chart that runs more than 20 pages, an approach he has used for several of his more formal speeches in the campaign.

In his White House run, Romney has mainly positioned himself less as the can-do technocrat he ran as in Massachusetts and instead as a conservative alternative to John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. But on the campaign trail, he's also touting his management and business experience, but in a way that uses the words "Obama" and "Edwards" more than "Bain," the name of the consulting firm he worked at and later ran and the venture capital firm he founded that was spun of out of the consulting firm.

"There's something else that concerns me about Senator Clinton and Senator Obama and Senator Edwards -- one, they're all senators," Romney told a crowd in Iowa last month. "Those folks have -- well, their experience is a little different than mine. I spent my life in the private sector. I spent my life, for about 25 years, first working for about 10 years for someone else and worked my way up in the company and then I began my own business. It started small and it got large, and I learned from that experience. I met a payroll and had to give back to my owners their returns and it's tough in the private sector."

"I learned a number of lessons in management," Romney said. "Now, we have three people I just mentioned running for president on the Democratic side, and they want to run the largest enterprise in the world, public or private, largest business, largest government, largest in the world, has millions of employees, a budget of $2.7 trillion, an inconceivable amount of money, and yet not one of them has ever even run a corner store."

When told Edwards had actually run a law firm, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom replied "suing people isn't management." But do management skills make a good presidential candidate? In some ways, Giuliani is making a similar argument: along with talking about his efforts on Sept. 11, 2001, he's touting his experience in making over New York during his tenure as mayor there. The self-congratulatory books the pair wrote, Romney's "Turnaround" and Giuliani's "Leadership", could easily swap titles, and Giuliani often sounds like Romney when he talks about one of keys in turning around New York was keeping more detailed data on everything.

In 1988, another Massachusetts Governor, Michael Dukakis, touted his managerial "competence" to no avail, and using lots of charts to describe the problem of the budget deficit didn't win the Oval Office for Ross Perot four years later. On the other hand, hasn't a PowerPoint presentation about global warming got a bunch of Democrats begging a man they once considered a has-been to run again?

--Perry Bacon Jr.

By Washington Post editors  |  August 24, 2007; 3:45 PM ET
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