Jul 17, 2012

You didn't build that, King Barack did!

At a campaign event over the weekend in Roanoke, Virginia, President Obama echoed Elizabeth Warren, candidate for US Senate from Massacusetts, saying:
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.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for president — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.”
On its face this is true in a sense, but also an absurd argument for a President to make, as if anyone actually believes that an individual is 100% responsible for everything that happens in their life, especially their business. Par for the course in what has been the President's reelection campaign against his challenger, also from Massachusetts, Mitt Straw-man.

But then today I heard the audio, saw the video, adding another sense to the text, and it made me viscerally angry.  Have we ever had such an arrogant, condescending, entitled, resentful man in the White House? Just wow.

Now that I've gotten all that out of my system, on to some actual points regarding what he said.

1. It's a straw man. As usual. Mr President, there are no solipsists. No man is an island. It takes a village. Etc etc. The President isn't running against an Anarchist for his office, but a Republican, and not even a radical libertarian one (I wish). Everyone knows we use public infrastructure, other peoples' research, shared ideas, years of education, and an interconnected society of consumers and producers to make business and the economy work. No one is arguing we don't. We're only arguing the level, not the fact, of government influence.

2. The line "You didn't build that" could be referring to the previously mentioned roads and bridges rather than the business itself. Fine. Who (besides John Stossel) is arguing we shouldn't fund roads and bridges? Local, state, and federal taxes pay for roads and bridges. Individuals and businesses pay those taxes, so yes, Mr President, the businesses in a community do build the roads and bridges in that community, in the fiscal sense. And in many places, the state or municipality actually hires businesses to do the construction itself!

3. Yes, government research (in the Defense Department that the President wants to cut, as do I) led to the internet, but the private sector made it the revolutionary, world changing communications and business tool it is today. DARPA may have created the internet, but they didn't create AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve, Google, Yahoo, Apple, or Amazon. Entrepreneurs did, and yes, using tools built by others (more often tools built by other entrepreneurs than tools built by government, though).

The President is supposed to lead and inspire, not divide and denigrate. These kind of comments do not promote enterprise, growth, or entrepreneurship, they promote resentment, entitlement, and envy. President Obama thinks it's more important for us to be "in this together" than to actually grow the economy in the ways that actually work. It's been said so many times, but not enough, the contrast in this election could not be any clearer.

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