"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, July 16, 2012

"If You've Got a Business -- You Didn't Build That"

The conservative blogosphere is going nuts -- rightly so -- about these comments from President Obama about success in America:

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.

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.

See, I don't recall a lot of government "help" when my Dad started his business in the late 1960s.   I remember him quitting a good job as a top salesman for a chemical company, paying himself next to nothing (if I remember it correctly, he paid himself to start something like $600/mo.), putting his life savings at risk, borrowing against our house, getting his friends and parents to "invest" in his fledgling enterprise, getting his best friend to come into the business with him, also making next to nothing at first, convincing Mom to go back to work, first as a Special Ed teacher and then as a 5th grade teacher, to support us during those years, having us kids both do without a lot of things and occasionally help out with assembly jobs on the weekends.  

I remember him spending a lot of days and nights away from home traveling on business, oftentimes driving to plating businesses across the Midwest and South because some bath wasn't working properly because when you only have a few customer you have to go the extra mile to keep them.  

I remember summer months when the money was tight and we had a vegetable garden in the backyard -- more zucchini dishes than you could imagine.  

I remember him scraping and re-glazing and priming and painting every window in our old house almost every weekend in the summer (in St. Louis!) up on a ladder, because (I know this in retrospect) it was cheaper than hiring someone and cheaper than replacement windows.   I remember him teaching himself how to fix nearly everything, from the furnace to the air conditioner to the disposal, because there wasn't enough money to hire people to fix your things for you, and why would you if you could do it yourself.  

I also remember him ultimately hiring about twenty or thirty people to work in his small company, paying them good wages, giving them health benefits and a pension plan, and I remember that very few of them ever left working for my Dad, because the lives they had working for him were better than the lives they would have had otherwise.

I remember his funeral when people he had met in business, hundreds of them, paid their respects, and younger men whom I had never met told me that he had been their wise counselor when they were starting out.

But, try as I might, I just can't remember much by way of government "help."   Friends, sure; family, of course; his wife, my mom, always.   But not much from the government.

Oh, except for paperwork and taxes and hassling from the EPA because he was in a chemical business.

Obama's father was an academic; his mother was an academic; his life up to his political career was spent in academia or else in non-profit activity.   I doubt he's ever had a close family member who started a small business.  

He.   Knows.   Nothing.  

Seriously, I don't think anything this jerk has ever said has made me as mad as this.

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