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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Responding to Obama's "You didn't build that" speech

Glomming onto a particular statement may work well for political campaigns and news sound bites, but the reality is so much more scarier.

A recent speech by President Obama was attacked for one small section of it being anti-business, pro-cradle-to-the-grave government interference and “slap in the face of the American Dream” (Romney attack emails).

But it is so much worse than that. It is a shinning example of political spin and weaselly word warping. It is an example of not only naivete but a complete distortion of the facts. It shows an arrogance and an ignorance that should make one shake in dismay and fear. This is, after all, the President of the United States. If he can 1) get away with lying this badly and 2) afford the best speech writers in the business and NOT employ them, we need to be very worried about everything else he is, and has been, doing.

The following is a dissection of the speech that has politicos up in arms.

“We’ve already made a trillion dollars’ worth of cuts. We can make some more cuts in programs that don’t work, and make government work more efficiently…We can make another trillion or trillion-two, and what we then do is ask for the wealthy to pay a little bit more …”

Not only has the government not made a trillion dollars worth of cuts, it is not just programs not working that need to be cut. That is irresponsible leadership and fiscal management. Redundant government agencies need to be cut. Outrageous government (and I mean the politicians not the people in the trenches) salaries and pensions that need to be cut. It is the bloated government structure that needs to be cut. And asking people who already pay the lion's share of the burden to pay more is NOT the answer. Make everyone pay the same amount – and I mean everyone, including those who don't pay anything now – and that will be 1) fair and 2) make more coming in that asking “the wealthy to pay a little bit more.”

“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.”

First, the wealthy, successful Americans who “agree” with him want something out of it. Whether its some kind of absolution for a past wrong or a political favor down the road, they want something out of agreeing with the President. It is naïve to think otherwise. But Obama's naivete goes on in this section because he just doesn't get it – and if not by now, he never will – how a successful business happens. Yes, there are a lot of smart people out there. But it is not just smart as in intelligence, it is smart as in street smart, business smart and idea smart that makes a success.

It is not just hard work and working hard, it is putting in the sweat equity that leads to something. A man can work hard all day at the factory – work his tail off day in and day out – and only have stiff hands and a small pension to show for it after forty years. There's no knocking a hard worker. That is not my intent. But a man who works hard – knocking on doors, building the factory floor, dealing with investors and engineers, promoting his ideas and business into the wee hours of the morning – will, if he does it right, see his business thriving and be able to pass it along to his sons and daughters after forty years. That's the type of hard work success demands.

So being a hard worker and smart is all well and fine, commendable even, but it is not just hard work and smarts that make a success happen.

“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.”

This is the big one that everyone glommed onto. This is the section that, frankly, even got me ticked off. Not just for the “slap in the face of the American Dream,” as Team Romney put it. But for the bold faced lie / arrogance / ignorance of the entire passage.

First off, yes, there are great teachers out there, inspirational people that have given drive to someone's ambition to succeed. Whether it literally was a teacher who saw that little Johnny could be great with the right guidance, or if it was a parent who inspired young Susie to do big things. The fact is, there are great and inspirational people around lots of us. But not all of us go on to succeed. That drive, that discipline, is in those individuals who do succeed. Bill Gates did not succeed because of a great teacher. He succeeded because he took whatever inspiration he was exposed to inside and built on his dream.

But the part that made me boil – the lie or the arrogant ignoring of the facts or just the blatant ignorance of not knowing history – is where the President said the government research created the internet “so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.” This is just so untrue. The government “created” the internet as part of a self serving experiment. So government agencies, and the educational institutions they partnered with, could share information. They wanted to created access to a combined database. It was someone in business (namely the British Post Office, Western Union International and Tymnet – followed closely by CompuServe, AOL and Prodigy) that came up with its commercial uses. It was someone who came up with an idea on how to be successful, worked hard to make it happen and did it. That is how business works. That is how success works. Yes government is supposed to allow an environment for success (regulations, interstate and international trade negotiations, legislation), but it is the individual who succeeds. As pundit Charles Payne pointed out in a recent editorial, “If President Obama thinks successful people only got that way because of paved roads and the Internet, how come everyone isn't successful?” [1]

“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.”

Again, the President's naivete is showing. Fighting fires is what a reactionary does. Preventing fires is what an innovator does. We do not succeed because we do things together in the way he is expressing. What he has espoused up to this point and this statement leads to socialized (and I didn't say “socialism”) thinking. Equating creating a business together with fighting fires is a poor example of speech writing. You build a business, in an environment the government has fostered that is conducive to creating a business, to succeed. Many times that business is beneficial to many. If it were not, then it will not succeed anyway. But most times it was built with the purpose of being successful for the owner. I might want to start a business that creates widgets that will reduce car accident injuries to near zero. I may have done that to help people because I had someone seriously injured in an accident. But I will have made the business successful, through my own hard work and dedication, in order to give my children a better life and to pass it along to them when I die / retire. To think it is otherwise is naïve.

“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.”

In this conclusion, the President blends together – and this is the politico spin of how politics works – bipartisan legislative work, patriotism, public projects paid for by tax payer dollars and a repeating of misinformation.

We went to the moon because Russia was about to beat us there and it would have been economically and politically (internationally) disastrous for us to have allowed that. And it was so masterfully wrapped in patriotism that the public was inspired (which itself led to technical advances beyond simply extra-terrestrial exploration).

“We” built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge because they were needed. Public projects paid for by taxpayer dollars, like the roads that are needed for inter- and intrastate commerce. (Look it up, that's why roads were first built and paid for by taxpayers.)

(Repeat) The internet was not created by government for business. Business determined that the internet would be a rally useful tool and adapted it for commercial use. (Again, don't take my word for it, look it up.)

The middle class was not created by the United States government. It is a simple fact of social layering that occurs [2] in every free society. Taking credit for this is both irresponsible and inaccurate. The term “middle class” is not even an American invention. (Either in its original coining [3] or its modern [4] usage, attributed to T. H. C. Stevenson.)

Finally, it is ironic, that the President who has done the most damage in recent history of dividing this nation, should use the concept of “united we stand, divided we fall.” We do stand better together, as a nation. There is no denying this fact. But it is a nation of individuals standing tall and firm. It is a nation where we can be as different as night and day – in color, beliefs, culture, economic footing, and taste in entertainment – yet we are joined by a common history of saying “No” to injustice, “No” to tyranny and “No” to someone who would tell us what to do, how to live and when to die. We are joined by a common thread of wanting to live in a country where we enjoy so many freedoms. Freedom to speak our minds, freedom to live our lives, freedom to worship, to protect our loved ones, to succeed or fail on our own merits.

This is why we should worry. This is why we deconstruct what our leaders say to us. Because when someone, so high up, with so much power to affect our day to day lives, makes so many mistaken and naïve statements, we have to wonder how we could have been so naïve to have allowed it.

James Madison believed that a central federal government could never become so powerful and so out of touch with the people because the people would stop it dead in its tracks. He argued [5] for ratification of the Constitution that would create such a federal government because he felt, in his heart, that the people would side with the states, would stand united and firm against any and all overreaches of that central government as to render them powerless to continue. How sad Madison would be today to see that the people sat idly by as it happened.

As always, you can agree or disagree. I just ask you look at ALL there is to look and decide for yourself – don't take the word of anyone else, not even me. Just STOP EBING SHEEP and AVOID THE SPIN. But either way, its all good. Because this is just me, Thinking Out Loud.

Have a great day.


(These are links in the above post, in case you can't get to them. Just copy and paste to your browser)

[5] James Madison, Federalist Papers No. 46

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