Imagine if history textbooks replaced “Alexander Graham Bell” with “someone else” as inventor of the telephone. Not only would such an assertion be vague and misleading, it would be downright false.
Yet, last Friday, President Obama exclaimed that, “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Ever since, the Internet has been abuzz with commentary, memes, and even a brand new website critical of the president’s assertion. It seems the president struck a nerve — in the worst possible way — with this latest window into his worldview. He articulated his inadequate understanding of how individuals and their societies prosper.
To put it more bluntly, President Obama demonstrated that he is fundamentally out of touch with America.
Americans have long understood that success is earned, not given. Poll data shows that Americans consistently believe that an individual’s hard work is, by far, the best determination of success. We deserve to be rewarded for the projects we successfully complete, for the services we provide, and yes — for the businesses that we build. Such endeavors are not easy. In fact, running a successful business operation (large or small) requires monumental levels of individual perseverance. No amount of personal coaching, friendly instruction, government-paved roads, or police protection will cause businessmen to succeed. To do so, entrepreneurs have to go to the next level and take ownership of their business endeavors, develop business models, make numerous mistakes along the way, and ultimately work extremely hard.
But on Friday, President Obama declared that this traditional American vision of earned success is fundamentally wrong. It would have been one thing had he merely said that social influences, such as teachers, parents, and policemen, helped to create the conditions under which businessmen could succeed; that’s obvious and no one disputes it. However, President Obama went much further, asserting that successful businessmen did not build their own businesses, but that “someone else” did it for them. To get the country out of these economic doldrums we don’t need people sitting around waiting for “someone else” to do it for them; we need hardworking individuals to step up.
Members of the business community are understandably outraged by the president’s remarks. The National Federation of Independent Business commented that, “unfortunate remarks over the weekend show an utter lack of understanding and appreciation for the people who take a huge personal risk and work endless hours to start a business and create jobs.”
Ultimately, taken in context with the rest of the speech, President Obama’s rhetoric was an inarticulate attempt to drum up support for his goal to increase taxes on the wealthy. At a time when the top 10% of income earners already pay 71% of the nation’s taxes and the U.S. has the highest corporate income tax in the world, the president has resorted to dangerous rhetoric that implies Americans are not entitled to the fruit of their own labor. With this mindset, it is no wonder the president’s policies have failed to create jobs and sustain economic growth.
Jason Hughey is a policy analyst for Americans for Prosperity.