The president has consistently displayed a scornful attitude toward businesses, including during his much-hyped jobs speech last year before a joint session of Congress: “[F]or everyone who speaks so passionately about making life easier for ‘job creators,’ this plan is for you,” said the president, unable to hide his disdain for Republican concerns even while purporting to be solicitous of them. “Job creators” was actually placed within dismissive quotation marks in the prepared text. He might as well have sneeringly referred to entrepreneurs as “so-called job creators.”
Obama’s antipathy toward business is deep-seated. Before finding his true calling as a community organizer, Obama spent a very brief amount of time in the private sector. He took an entry-level job out of college where he wrote reports on economic conditions in foreign countries. According to David Maraniss’s biography entitled Barack Obama: The Story, Obama told his mother that the job was like “working for the enemy.” In his own book, Dreams from My Father, Obama described himself as being “[l]ike a spy behind enemy lines” during his brief tenure in Corporate America. As a former liberal, I recognize these sentiments; they have long been fashionable in the circles I used to run in.
Obama is now a successful politician, and hence knows enough to pay lip service to the virtues of the entrepreneurial spirit. During his remarks in Roanoke, he went on to say the following: “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.” This is fairly typical of Obama. When he extols the virtues of something like “individual initiative,” it is invariably followed by a “but,” which is in turn followed by his real point. In this case, his real point is that the successful owe their success to the government.
As usual, the president is engaged in a passionate argument with a straw man. Who is against using public funds (which are raised disproportionally from successful individuals and businesses, by the way) for public infrastructure? The president is running against the Republicans, but he seems to think that he’s running against the anarchists. And does the president really think that “this unbelievable American system” is based upon the fact that we use public funds to build roads and bridges? If I may respond to the president by paraphrasing his own words: “Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of countries out there that use public funds to build roads and bridges. All of them do, actually. But none of those other countries has been as successful as the United States of America, so it must be something else that accounts for this unbelievable American system.”
Imagine if a presidential candidate were to say the following about, say, war heroes: “I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so brave. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of brave people out there.”
If someone felt the need to put war heroes in their place by making such a statement, what would it suggest about that person’s respect for war heroes? The same thing that President Obama’s remarks in Roanoke suggest about his respect for small business owners.
David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He is the author of Left-Hearted, Right-Minded: Why Conservative Policies Are The Best Way To Achieve Liberal Ideals.