President Dobbs: The First Tell-All Memoir
Lou Dobbs is saying he might run for president in 2012. As one who worked for Dobbs a decade ago, when he was CEO of the Internet venture Space.com, I wish to point out that his management skills and style were unequal to running a web company with some 100 employees. As president of the United States, he would be a disaster.
A successful American president needs some ability to rise above certain temptations of the office. These include the temptation to put yourself in a bubble, listening only to reverent aides who will tell you what you want to hear, and the temptation to think of the office as being all about you, making it a platform for endless ego gratification.
Dobbs has zero ability to resist such temptations. He was a boss who sought to rule by intimidation; being a famous anchorman in a roomful of young web journalists gave him considerable leverage to do that. At the same time, he became increasingly irritable running a website about outer space, which I attribute not only to the dot com boom deflating (which meant he was not going to become as wealthy as his friend Ted Turner) but also to the fact that he was no longer in the public eye on a daily basis.
It was, in short, all about him, and he made it crystal clear that his employees were as expendable as the fall-away parts of a rocket. My own employment at Space.com ended during a staff meeting in which, after I suggested company management practices could be improved, he promptly told me he would accept my resignation.
Years later, I ran into Lou in a Manhattan office building (we share a periodontist) and we had a pleasant conversation going down in the elevator. He’s not an altogether bad guy. He can be agreeable company, for example over a drink or after getting dental anesthesia. But there should be no mistaking him for someone who would contemplate multiple points of view thoughtfully or cultivate a talented administration of individuals with whom he might have to share some credit for real or imagined achievements.
His TV show of recent years gives ample reason to think the substance as well as the style of a Dobbs administration would be awful. His anti-corporate populism and hostility to free trade would be impediments to the prospects for economic revitalization. His railing against illegal immigrants is overblown, emphasizing us-versus-them emotionalism over serious policy analysis. His receptiveness to fringe conspiracy theories such as the birther business is simply disgraceful.
It’s hard to know whether Dobbs is really serious about contemplating a presidential run. Even if not, it is the sort of thing he’d likely be talking about, just to keep himself in the limelight and ensure a ready audience for whatever shows, books and speeches he might produce. It is also hard to judge whether there is any serious prospect he would win a presidential race, either as an independent or a rogue Democrat or Republican (and speaking of rogue, his sharing a ticket with Sarah Palin has been much discussed).
But it is not hard to judge what kind of president Lou Dobbs would be. His greatest achievement would be to make all our recent presidents and the current one, whatever one thinks of them now, look like paragons of statesmanship.
Note: Unlike a decade ago, when Lou Dobbs made his first abrupt departure from CNN, Ken Silber does not anticipate sending Dobbs a résumé.