Obama and success

I came home from vacation last week to find President Obama had said something odd. He’d forgotten to add the word “alone” to his statement. I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant to say. But there is still something disturbing underlying his statement even if you give him the benefit of the doubt:

“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.”

I will not disagree that we all get some help in achieving the successes we have in life. I also realize that he at least began this detour by talking about raising taxes on the rich. But it was a detour. He veered off into territory he didn’t need to, and it’s telling.

He keeps using the word “successful”–not “wealthy”, not “rich”, but “successful.” Why? Is it because success and wealth are synonymous in his mind? I don’t think he really wants to go on record saying that. So what is the problem he has with success? He can’t tax “success.” How would you write that change to the tax code? “We’re going to raise taxes 10% on the successful.” Huh?! So why does he keep using that word?

What’s worse, his logic is self-defeating. Let’s see that again:

They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

He’s saying that you can’t claim, if you’re successful, that you got that way by being smart and working hard. You had people helping you. His evidence? There are a lot of smart, hard-working people out there, and by implication, they’re not successful. Evidently, those people also didn’t have anyone helping them, because that’s the only other factor he mentions.

But that defeats his own argument. His reason for taxing the successful is because they used public resources to do so. It was the teacher in their past. It was the national infrastructure. It was government research. The trouble is, these resources are available to everybody (if they’re not, then we have another problem altogether, so why not address that one?). So if they aren’t successful even though they’re smart, work hard, and have the government backing them up, but other people are successful with those same resources…well, what’s left? Why are the successful people successful?

If there are people who are successful, and there are people who are not successful, and they all work hard, are smart, and have the resources of America behind them then there has to be something else that sets the successful apart. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to take credit for that? Obama certainly shouldn’t dismiss it or condemn it if he can’t even identify what the critical element is. And, unfortunately, I certainly don’t see him trying to encourage it. The very idea of someone taking credit for their own success seems to make him angry. Success is, by nature, unearned–that’s what he seem to be trying to get across here.

If he could have stayed on track there would be few who could argue with him. If he was trying to make the case for the rich paying an equal tax rate I suspect he’d get lots of support–even mine, conditionally. So why did he go off on the trip through the countryside that he did? Did he go off speech? Was his teleprompter broken? Was he really, really tired and not thinking straight?

I hope so, because having a President of the United States who is against success is a frightening prospect–much more so than if he were simply against wealth.

I’ve been trying harder to avoid discussing politics here, but this one attacks where I live. I feel I’m successful, though I’ve never made anywhere close to the $250,000 Obama uses to define “rich”. I’ve helped build a successful business. And while yes, I did use public infrastructure in doing so, and I was educated in America, and I had the support of many people, I still take credit for my contribution to that business.

Because all along I’ve been paying my taxes for those roads. Why should they not be there for me when I want to start a business? My parents paid taxes–and I paid for tuition–for my education, and my employer and I shared the bill for my business education from a private school. The government didn’t offer us any help when we started the business–they came to us with their hand out for more taxes. And we paid those, too. In that entire section of his speech Obama only gave brief recognition to initiative once.

That hurts. That’s insulting. Because if all the “help” we get is so effective, why aren’t more businesses successful? Why does only one in every five businesses succeed? Why isn’t everyone opening a successful business? I see nothing in his speech that explains that, which worries me greatly. A president who doesn’t understand how business works is the last thing we need right now.

Update: The cries of “racism” are starting to come out over this now. Strange. I’m disagreeing with the current President of the United States. It’s the left who can’t seem to see past his color.

One thought on “Obama and success”

  1. Well reasoned (to borrow a Ravenvclaw phrase). Now I understand why he was both misunderstood and not misunderstood. I couldn’t articulate why until I read your blog.

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