Dr. Dean, Don't Forget Your CEO Job

Iowa's No. 3 is taking heat from Kerry about a lack of foreign policy and military experience. But when was Kerry ever a chief exec?

By Ciro Scotti

The Stop-Dean Movement did just that, as the once-humming Dean Machine stalled out in the frozen corn fields of Iowa. Now it's on to New Hampshire, where the Stop-Deaners have two horses in the race -- Iowa comeback kid John Kerry, the candidate of the Democratic Party's Kennedy Wing, and Wesley Clark, the general from Arkansas with at least one foot in the Clinton Camp.

But besides a blunt candidate with a take-no-prisoners message and innovative strategies, the Dean Machine still has something to offer that rival campaigns don't: Of all the Democratic contenders, Dean is the only one with experience as a chief executive. In the past seven Presidential elections, the lone candidate to be elected or reelected who didn't previously serve as a governor was George H.W. Bush.


  Savoring his victory in the Iowa Caucuses, Kerry predicted that President George W. Bush would run on his national security record, and the Massachusetts senator pointedly said the Democratic nomineee needed to be able to go toe-to-toe with Bush on the ability to keep America safe. Besides an advertisement for himself and his unmatched war record, that was a dig at Dean, whom Kerry has repeatedly criticized for a lack of foreign policy experience and empty record of military service.

Yet neither Kerry nor second-place Iowa finisher Smilin' John Edwards nor Joe Lieberman nor Al Sharpton (has he had any job?) has ever been a CEO, whether public or private. Clark has been in charge of soldiers and strategy, but when he got too big for his fatigues as NATO commander in Kosovo, he got busted back to his civvies.

Dennis Kucinich actually has had operational experience on a smaller scale: He was mayor of Cleveland when it defaulted on its municipal bonds.

The buzz today is about electability and national security, but the Dean Machine might do well to emphasize that none of the other Democrats has ever sat where the buck stops.

Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BusinessWeek Online

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.