Dear Mr. President: When Did Capitalism Become a Bad Word?

  • SumoMe

Photo credit: CSN Monitor

At a speech in Virginia on July 13th, President Obama gave Americans, and business owners in particular, a sobering insight into his thinking with his now-infamous “you didn’t build that” speech.

By now, you have seen the video clips of the speech or you read an account of the speech or a transcript.

I have taken the last few days to take a step back and give his remarks the benefit of some thoughtful analysis. After all, we all say things in the heat of the moment. Perhaps the President’s media people, or President Obama himself, would take the step of providing some type of clarification or explanation.

Nothing of the sort came. Which, to me, signals that it was not a mis-statement.

For a president who prides himself on being an “inspirational communicator,” Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech was about as inspiring as a sharp stick in the eye.

I will not selectively parse the president’s words. Here they are:

“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.”

Obama cited teachers and mentors who helped “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.”

So there it is.

The president’s supporters say he’s actually talking about the great things government does to make capitalism and entrepreneurship possible. I see a thesis that fails to appreciate entrepreneurs and hard-working business owners who pour their blood, sweat and tears (plus their own money) into their dreams.

Over the past four years, President Obama has demonstrated a tin ear when listening to the needs of business owners and entrepreneurs. The “you didn’t build that” has become a punchline and, hopefully, a rallying cry to motivate Americans to restore a sense of pride in the American free enterprise system.

I will give President Obama the benefit of the doubt. I can understand the premise of his message: that business success is not accomplished in isolation. Any reasonable person can accept that.

Of course, businesses need some ingredients to thrive, like infrastructure, a transportation system to facilitate commerce, an educated workforce, and other factors.

But if capitalism is an entrée, then those things that government provides are the garnish, seasonings and side dishes.

The entrepreneur provides the “red meat” of the dish. They are the ones that take the risk, invest their capital, put in the hard work and the blood, sweat and tears to make their vision a reality.

To say to any entrepreneur, whether it’s Steve Jobs, Henry Ford or a little shop owner, is not primarily responsible for the success of their business enterprise is an insult to the very core of our free enterprise system.

Individual success is not a gift from the government. And a reminder to those who buy into President Obama’s premise: the government, as a business enterprise, would not exist without the tax dollars provided by Americans and, oh yeah, business owners.

The roads, the infrastructure, the government bureaucracy and all the many other things the government provides- good and bad- is provided by the taxes it collects from working Americans and business owners.

21 Responses to Dear Mr. President: When Did Capitalism Become a Bad Word?

  1. Bill July 25, 2012 at 1:14 am #

    “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.???????

    Who the heck is he to tell anybody what they did and did not do? somebody else? I guess somebody else made Thomas Edison invent the light bulb. I guess somebody else gave Sam Walton the means to work his butt off to develop Walmart. Ray Kroc did not build McDonalds.

    He has no idea about how things work. To give him 4 more years is frightening.

  2. shirley July 25, 2012 at 1:15 am #

    We all know he lies. I recalled years of my husband working 16 X 7, with all requests due yesterday, borrowing substantial sums of money, taking out a 2nd mortgage all for the big risk the business would work. It was only through years of hard work, sacrifice, no vacations, etc. that the business proved to be successful. I was angry, as this man never ran anything, only had 14 months experience as a senator and NO EXECUTIVE EXPERIENCE. He is a disaster and is trying to take this great country down. Socialism doesn’t work in Europe, with all the countries needing bailing out and it worn’t work here. Spending more money than revenue available is easy…what’s difficult is to reign in spending and living within our ability to pay without further credit reductions. I can’t wait for Nov 2012 when candidate Romney is elected as our next president. I can’t stand the liberal lies, the media is owned by liberals and they are not acting responsibly in getting the accurate facts out. BHO’s arrogant remarks is what the Republican party needed to unify the party. Bring it on!!!

  3. Amy July 25, 2012 at 1:43 am #

    Well, President Obama’s “people” can explain his words any way they want, the way the words were spoken can only be interpretted, by some, in one way. His speech was truly insulting to the individuals and families with small business. It was a slap in the face to the individuals and families that risked everything and sacrificed a great deal.

    In a time when hand-out, bail-outs, and free rides are given like Halloween candy, you are damn straight my father did it on his own. My father started his own business at the age of 23. He did it on his own, with oppostition from the government. While many others were given bonuses and pensions, he paid double social security, for himself as employee and employer (which he most likely will never see a dime of again). He has no idea what three weeks paid vacation feels like. He does not know what a 40 hour work week must be like. He wonders, what is a weekend?

    After reading this and hearing that awful speech, I wonder if President Obama’s intention is to crush the American spirit. I admire my father and saw first hand the struggles my parents faced and conquered for our family. I remember scraping by and seeing their worries. As I recall, there was no one assisting– they were doing it on their own. And they succeeded. They are my role models, true American heroes.

    P.S. Thanks for the roads that my taxes paid for anyway.

  4. Marjorie July 25, 2012 at 2:22 am #

    Perhaps you’ll come up with the Prez’s birth certificate while you are in Hawaii……………..

    Marjorie

  5. Marjorie July 25, 2012 at 2:25 am #

    As far as I’m concerned about this coming election in November, we have two choices. Number one, we can vote for someone who believes in making a success of your life or we can vote for someone who believes that we just have to sit back and let the other guy do it.

    Marjorie

  6. Bill July 25, 2012 at 2:41 am #

    this man never ran anything, only had 14 months experience as a senator and NO EXECUTIVE EXPERIENCE. He is a disaster

    What type a person would hire a man with no executive experience to run a fortune 500 company? 4 years people voted for Obama to run the United States with the experience of a community organizer. Fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me .

    Can people be that stupid twice?

  7. Elaine July 25, 2012 at 3:14 am #

    Everyone benefits from infrastructure, roads etc, so what is the point of Obama stating that only the successful have benefited from the infrastructure. The less successful have the same freedom to use this infrastructure to pursue their dreams. The successful business people have paid local and state taxes for these roads, etc. So what do we tell the constitutional lawyer when he implies or downright states that everyone doesn’t have the same feedoms to be successful in this great country: READ THE US CONSTITUTION !

  8. larry cohen July 25, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    Obama’s speech is untrue on it’s face. The people who built the roads are probably
    the highest paid blue collar workers in the country and the govt worker
    has more job security then the business owner

    I am missing how his speech shows injustice in America. He
    has actually proved it is a just country where all share in the
    prosperity.

  9. Keith Barger July 25, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    Well, then I guess the opposite is also true. Because I have been unsuccessful, it must be Obama’s fault. Since the government didn’t pay for my college education, give me food stamps & general assistance instead of making me work 30 hrs a week while in school (oh & not enforcing child labor laws when I was an Evening Bulletin paperboy at age 11) it is the government’s fault for not doing enough for me. By the way, in 1962 when JFK was president, only 6% of the population received government entitlements (not including social security & medicare, which people pay for).
    I remember my mother and father scraping by… hot dogs, tuna, spaghetti, a used car, no air-conditioning, one black and white TV, one vacation week a year, a car trip down Skyline Drive. But nobody complained. ,

    Now, over 35% of the population (100 million people) recieves some sort of federal assistance that other Americans are paying for, and Obama calls this progress? Obama & the democrats are killing off what made America both unique & great; the idea that you can be successful through hard work.

    Last night Bill O’Reilly made these comments:
    How can the Democratic Party continue to believe that’s a good thing? Continue to promote programs that create dependence rather than self- reliance. Competition and the desire to succeed in the marketplace have made America great. But that ethic is being eroded by a culture of “Where’s mine?”

    President Obama wants to redistribute income and impose social justice through taxing the wealthy and business concerns. That’s what he wants to do. But Mr. Obama cannot possibly believe that a giant welfare state leads to strength. It does not. It leads to weakness.

    Few oppose safety nets for those who through no fault of their own have fallen on hard times. A humane society provides for those people, children, the elderly, the mentally and physically depleted. But we are now way beyond that in America. We have become a society that tolerates slackers, and in some cases, even rewards irresponsible behavior.

    Some far-left individuals despise the U.S.A. believing it’s economic and military strength is a force for evil; that we are an exploitative country. Some Americans believe President Obama falls into that category. I do not.

    But I do believe the President is creating a huge federal apparatus that is draining individual incentive and creating an underclass of Americans who are not willing to compete for prosperity. That is not what America should be about.

    Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/oreilly/2012/07/25/bill-oreilly-are-you-weak#ixzz21dv29ct6

  10. Keith Barger July 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    In November, you have a choice: Captain Capitalism or Community Organizerman. According to ObamaZombie Ben ‘helicopter’ Bernanke, there was no recovery & the economy will get worse. Time to change direction back to prosperity & reward success. Send the real ‘outsourcer-in-chief’ a message: Obama, you will end up in the dustbin of history.

    P.S. Bill Clinton was a far better President than Obama. ( I can’t believe I just said that, but there it is).

    • Sal July 25, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

      In case you didn’t notice capitalism is the only thing that produces wealth. And it is a darn site better than the feudalism system it replaced. Captain Capitalism? Don’t you want to advance your life style and that of your family? I don’t get this! Why , because Romney laid off workers? 1 No one is guaranteed a job for life, except in Europe. 2 Sometimes businesses fail because of over staffing, over expansion, or mis management. To save the core sometimes branches must be pruned. Sometimes is an unworkable business model. What about the jobs and capital he saved? Profit is not an evil vise. If you are paid more money than it takes to get you to and from work and your most basic necessities, YOU are making a profit on your time. Vacations,cars, homes, and toys etc come from the money that exceeds your requirements to live. PROFIT. If people hate money so much why do they play the lottery? They do not play the lottery only for the money. The huge amounts of money offered by the lottery prize represents Freedom. Freedom from being a wage slave chained to a job for 40+years only to live your golden years in poverty. And that is what I think it’s all about, FREEDOM.

      • Sal July 25, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

        In case you didn’t notice capitalism is the only thing that produces wealth. And it is a darn site better than the feudalism system it replaced. Captain Capitalism? Don’t you want to advance your life style and that of your family? I don’t get this! Why , because Romney laid off workers? 1 No one is guaranteed a job for life, except in Europe. 2 Sometimes businesses fail because of over staffing, over expansion, or mis management. To save the core sometimes branches must be pruned. Sometimes is an unworkable business model. What about the jobs and capital he saved? Profit is not an evil vise. If you are paid more money than it takes to get you to and from work and your most basic necessities, YOU are making a profit on your time. Vacations,cars, homes, and toys etc come from the money that exceeds your requirements to live. PROFIT. If people hate money so much why do they play the lottery, knowing the chances of winning are microscopic? Because that is how desperate they are to be free. The huge amounts of money offered by the lottery prize represents Freedom. Freedom from being a wage slave chained to a job for 40+years only to live your golden years in poverty. And that is what I think it’s all about, FREEDOM.

  11. larry cohen July 25, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    Keith ,

    Your well written recollection that your parents would often just scrape by
    and never complain reminded me of my own youth and this very
    common teaching by my father at the kitchen table that
    most of my friends got as a standard lecture whenever we complained
    about anything:

    Very specifically I was told by my father , many times ,
    “how lucky you kids are that you are not
    living in Europe and how lucky we were to be in America
    where we are safe and eating.

    It was a standard thing most parents taught their kids.

  12. Terry July 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    He is trying to appeal to hatred and bias.
    I think the speech probably encapsulated most fears the normal American had about Obama’s election and presidency. I think the economic and philosophical affects of his presidency have set relations back decades, if not more
    Clearly Obama (and many of the democrats) has no clue how the economy runs. He thinks economics is smoke and mirrors, magic and hocus pocus. If he lived in a job and started/ran a business he would have known how the economy works and could never make such ridiculous statements.
    Organizing a community is staging a high school pep rally. We need an adult who can make the team skilled and play successfully – who can create the environment and lay the groundwork to have the world work.

  13. Pasquale July 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

    Anybody but the first liar

  14. Dom July 26, 2012 at 1:25 am #

    Lots of great thoughts here. Anything the government does in our free enterprise system pales in comparison to the role of the entrepreneur and the business owner.

  15. Bill July 26, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Here is a president who thinks the government is the solution to all problems.

    Look at Obama care. 2700 pages of ( we have to pass it to find out what is in it) rules regulations. Consider the following

    :
    “Fathom the hypocrisy of a government that requires every citizen to prove
    they are insured… but not everyone must prove they are a citizen.”
    Add to this that, many of those who refuse or are unable to prove they are
    citizens, will receive free insurance paid for by those who are.

    Welcome to America

  16. Marjorie July 31, 2012 at 4:43 am #

    Obama stopped believing in Capitalism when he started to give the store away so that he could get votes.

  17. CHARLES DILUZIO August 4, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    I am an Independent Conservative who happens to have liberal views towards services like Public Assistance and Abortion, the latter should be an individual choice not a religious,political
    or government choice. I do not disagree with everything President Obama has done, he has been very aggressive taking out our enemies in Al Qaeda and authorized the assassination of
    Osama Bin Laden, both I strongly support the president on. The president is not very strong when it comes to really understanding the importance of small business and the entrepreneurial
    spirit that is a catalyst for the U.S. economy growing stronger. When the president gives a speech regarding the state of our economy and small business owners and he says” business
    owners did not build what they have” or “you didn’t get there on your own” I really have no idea
    what the heck the man means but looking at him I know he believes whatever it is. Being a small
    business owner a few times in my life I know the time, effort and resources it took for me and my
    partners to create a viable profitable enterprise. The money invested was not tax payer money,
    there were no government backed stimulus to start it up or bail us out when access to credit froze in 2007/2008. Now maybe he’s implying that we drove on State built roads and highways to gain access to our business- but I helped fund those roads with my tax dollars and I have as
    much right as the president, his cabinet and congress to travel on them. The presidents signing
    the ACA into law and the Supreme Court upholding that law is disheartening, not because the
    country and her citizens didn’t need some healthcare reform- we did- it is the scope of the law and the power put into the governments hands and it will not matter who the president is 20 yrs
    from now, Democrat, Republican or Independent- that power will not be given back easily or
    peacefully. Plus the law is so complex and it has so many loopholes for modifications that the
    opportunity for even more corruption, special interest and financial mismanagement is all but
    given. Government is getting bigger and more powerful each day, the role of government is to
    protect its citizens with strong regulations, a strong military and safe schools and highways…not
    to dictate to us that we did not earn what we worked for, redistribute wealth and take control of
    a major portion of United States citizens health insurance.

  18. Tom Woollam August 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    I’ve read the blog as your email suggested. I notice that most of your feedback is from folks who agree with you so I’ll change the mix a little. You say you will not parse the president’s words and then you parse them, putting in quotes the words you wish to emphasize in a negative way and paraphrasing (like, oh yeah he did say some other stuff) the statements which do not support your view. I respect your view although it’s not the one I hold but you really are manipulating words to support your view. Capitalism isn’t bad and I don’t think Obama ever said it was. The actions of others (like Romney) give it bad name – $77,00 tax write off for a dancing horse, hiding money all over the world, refusal to release tax returns. He’s not actually giving capitalism a bad name just “some” super rich who take advantage. Maybe the person who wants you to find Obama’s birth certificate would also like to see Romney’s returns. The difference is that we’ve already seen the birth certificate.

  19. Bill August 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Obama stopped believing in Capitalism when he started to give the store away so that he could get votes.

    The problem is that there are people who work and contribute to the store and there are those who shop with somebody elses credit card.

    Lets be honest if you are not paying for it what do you care. where do you think that vote is going?

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