President Obama has misjudged the American spirit

Elizabeth Ames Elizabeth Ames is co-author with Steve Forbes and Nathan Lewis of "INFLATION: What It Is, Why It’s Bad, and How To Fix It."
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By now, nearly everyone has heard the president’s monumental diss of the nation’s entrepreneurs in his “You didn’t build that” speech. The president’s insistence earlier this month that America’s entrepreneurs didn’t really build their own businesses, that “somebody else made that happen” — namely, teachers, bridge builders and other government employees — provoked an outpouring that surprised even seasoned political observers.

That’s because President Obama didn’t simply “insult” entrepreneurs. He stomped on values at the core of our national spirit. He insulted all Americans.

President Obama doesn’t get why so many people, including his own father for a time and his mother’s forebears, came to this country. They were fleeing the prohibitions and taxation of their home nations — the very things the president today is bent on increasing. They were seeking the opportunity to build something.

That “something” may or may not be a business. But each of us in our own way is seeking to experience the heady sensation that comes from personal enterprise, the realization that “I did this!” This sense of personal triumph comes not just from owning your own company, but also from being the first in your family to go to college or getting the job that you wanted — from achieving your goals in a free society.

The nation’s public schools have invested (some would say wasted) countless hours on building “self-esteem” — trying to convince kids that they’re great even if they never open a book. President Obama is telling people breaking their backs in the toughest economy in over 50 years that they can’t take credit for their success. Their efforts as individuals are worth nothing. Talk about kicking a nation when we’re down.

In his rush to isolate and demonize the nation’s “rich people” and entrepreneurs, the president has badly misjudged the American spirit. Has he ever looked at the countless business self-help titles that line the shelves of our nation’s bookstores? These books have been part of our heritage since the days of the Founding Fathers. Benjamin Franklin wrote one of the first — “The Way to Wealth.” Modern titles like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” aren’t about how to get ahead by living the government-supported Life of Julia. They’re about enterprise and self-reliance.

And what about last year’s overwhelming reaction to the death of Steve Jobs, America’s real-life Tony Stark, our free enterprise superhero? Millions of people wouldn’t have rushed out to buy Jobs’ biography if they thought it was going to recount the history of U.S. infrastructure.

President Obama doesn’t understand that in America entrepreneurship is a little like football. Not all of us are players but most of us are fans. It’s hard to imagine the TV hit “The Apprentice,” which stars a real estate tycoon who is an unapologetic one-percenter with the catch-phrase “You’re fired,” originating in Europe, where rigid labor laws impede entrepreneurship by making both hiring and firing costly and difficult.

President Obama thinks he can attract voters by persuading them that their problems would disappear if only “rich people” paid “their fair share” and were less rich. Not everyone realizes that the top ten percent of earners already pay 70 percent of all federal income taxes. But most people in our entrepreneurial nation understand that you can’t have employees unless you have employers. If you make doing business harder and more expensive through costly regulations and higher taxes, fewer jobs will be created. That’s why the Obama economy is limping today.

Bashing entrepreneurs in America is like calling for a ban on football at the Super Bowl. No wonder President Obama is getting booed from all sides.

Elizabeth Ames is a communications executive and co-author with Steve Forbes of “Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral and Big Government Isn’t,” to be published in August by Crown Business.