Cheater in Chief: Bush as the MBA President
With each passing week, Americans are provided more insight into the deeply flawed character and mounting sins of their President. The latest comes in the form of a study by the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University showing that more MBA students cheat than those pursuing other professions. In what should come a surprise to few, George W. Bush, America's putative first MBA president, is the poster boy for the country's most dishonest profession.
Ironically, the Duke University report appeared just days after Bob Woodward depicted an out-of-touch, duplicitous Commander-in-Chief and former Bush faith-based crusader David Kuo portrayed a Pastor-in-Chief manipulating his flock for partisan political advantage. The study of 5,300 students at 54 institutions found that 56% of MBA students acknowledged cheating, more than those in fields such as education (48%), social sciences (39%) or even law (45%). Apparently, it is our future business leaders, and not the GOP bogeymen the trial lawyers, that Americans should trust least.
These findings should help finally dispel the conservative hagiography of George W. Bush as "America's First MBA President." As US News and the New Republic previously detailed, by any objective measure Bush's management of the federal budget and the war in Iraq should have long since led to the firing of America's CEO. In comparison to his failing grades as President, the C's Bush manufactured at Harvard Business School look like a stunning academic achievement.
But more telling than President Bush's failure as our business leader is his personification of the MBA cheating culture itself. From working connections and claiming credit for the work of others to fudging the numbers and outright lying, George W. Bush is the picture of the MBA gone bad.
Consider the Bush family connections and all of the luck and good fortune that goes with it. When Dubya ran afoul of the SEC for his insider trading while at Harken Energy, it was Bush family consigiliere James Baker and his friends at the law firm of Baker Botts who kept him out of legal hot water. And during the 2000 Florida recount, those same connections, and not his competence, made George W. Bush the 43rd president of the United States.
George W. Bush has also excelled at another hallmark of the MBA cheat, claiming credit for the work of others. While Governor of Texas, Bush opposed a Patients' Bill of Rights. Facing a veto-proof majority in the legislature, Bush let the bill become law without his signature. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush took credit for the very measure he opposed. That pattern would continue to define his presidency, as Bush claimed ownership of the success of measures he initially opposed, including both the 9/11 and Iraq WMD Commissions and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
The B-School corollary to appropriating the glory of others' successes is to deflect blame for one's own failures. In April 2004, President Bush famously stated he could not think of a single mistake he had made during his tenure. For Bush and his amen corner in the conservative movement, the war in Iraq stemmed from "bad intelligence." The disastrous federal response to Hurricane Katrina was the MBA's version of "the dog ate my homework" or perhaps an act of God. "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees," America's MBA President wrongly declared.
Another arrow in the quiver of MBA dishonesty is fudging the numbers. Here, too, President Bush is a practitioner without equal. For example, his tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which delivered over 40% of their benefits to the richest 1% of Americans, were advertised as providing Americans a tax cut of $1000 "on average." In the last few weeks, the White House proclaimed its success in meeting its 2004 promise to halve the federal budget deficit. That claim was based, of course, on artificially inflated deficit estimates made prior to the '04 presidential election. And faced with stagnant wages, declining median incomes, and out-of-control energy and health care costs, the Bush White House touts the meaningless statistic that "unemployment rates are below the averages of the 70's, 80's and 90's."
When bogus numbers won't get the job done, the MBA President is perfectly content to lie. In late 2003, a White House desperate for an election year win on Medicare deliberately misrepresented the program's costs in order to ensure passage. On December 8, 2003, President Bush rolled out a program he claimed would cost $400 billion over 10 years. Within two months, however, the White House notified Congress that the real price tag would approach $550 billion. (When Medicare actuary Richard Foster sought to present the true price tag to Congress in late 2003, then agency chief Thomas Scully threatened to fire him.) In January 2002, Bush lied about his close with relationship with disgraced Enron CEO Ken Lay. In 2004, he lied about his 2002 statement "I am truly not that concerned" about Osama Bin Laden. And just last week, President Bush denied ever having used the expression "stay the course" in regard to Iraq.
For the purposes of full disclosure, I should note that many of my close friends and business associates are MBAs and only a few them are duplicitous, lying scoundrels. But the fact remains, as Donald McCabe, the cheating study's lead author and a professor at Rutgers University declared, "Business schools have a significant problem that should be addressed."
America's problems, of course, are more profound than that. As with fish, the rot starts with the head. In this case, with our MBA President.