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.
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