The Rose Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, the BCS National Championship – and in a few weeks, the Super Bowl – are all coming soon to a television near you.
But what if we all displayed the same disdainful attitudes towards the accomplished athletes on our TV screen that Washington politicians display towards accomplished business owners and executives? And why is it that so many Americans celebrate the individual achievements of people who run fast, throw far, and jump high, but look with suspicion and anger at individuals who earn money creating valuable products and services?
It’s been almost six months since President Barack Obama delivered his now famous “Roanoke Rant,” an event that touched-off a brief debate about the merits of business. While campaigning for re-election last July 13th in Virginia, the President delivered a speech at the city’s “Fire Station #1” – which presumably meant that he had plenty of city government employees in the audience – and, in what seemed like an off-script moment, lambasted private business owners who were disagreeing with his tax hike proposals.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” the President said of business owners. “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.”
After the speech, critics claimed that the President was displaying his preference for taxpayer funded enterprise – in this instance, government schools and transportation systems – over and above privately owned and operated enterprises. The Obama campaign shot-back with their own spin, claiming the President was merely arguing that private businesses are reliant on both the personal initiative and hard work of their owners, along with taxpayer funded public infrastructure. And days later a video popped-up on Youtube showing U.S. Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren in 2011 reciting the exact same rhetoric that President Obama had delivered.
The Obama campaign’s explanation would have been fine, if not for a couple of problems. For one, the President failed to acknowledge in the speech that businesses pay taxes – lots of taxes – and help fund public schools and transportation systems (it’s not just that “somebody” does these things on behalf of business owners). Likewise, the President never acknowledged the other half of his campaign staff’s “explanation.” Yes, it is true that all of us, including business owners, benefit from the government infrastructure that surrounds us. But the President said nothing in his speech about how much hard work and discipline and personal initiative are necessary to build a successful business enterprise.
The Roanoke Rant came and went, and it obviously didn’t hurt the President’s campaign. Yet, two days after the speech, the President welcomed the Baylor University women’s basketball team to the White House and congratulated the players on a stellar championship season.
Speaking before the media, with the “Lady Bears of Baylor” standing on a platform behind him, the President recognized the achievements of the coaching staff, and then stated that “If there’s one thing to describe this team…it was dominant. Last season, the Lady Bears scored more points than any team in women’s college basketball history…”
Never did the President suggest that being “dominant” was problematic for the basketball team members. Likewise the President didn’t suggest that being the scoring leader was a selfish or greedy type of pursuit, or that the points were accrued by some sort of corrupt means. The President made it clear that the Lady Bears were number one, and they deserved to be recognized as such.
But what if the President treated the college athletes with the same scrutiny with which he spoke of private business owners two days earlier? Might there have been some government-sponsored underpinning to the ladies’ success that the President could have noted? No doubt some of the Lady Bears are attending Baylor University with scholarship funds, some of which are probably generated from private donors, but others of which are no doubt provided by taxpayer funded agencies.
Yet President Obama didn’t single-out any financial aid recipients and tell them “you didn’t get here on your own,” nor did he bother to remind the players that they didn’t build the courts that they play on and that they didn’t design the basketball. Instead, President Obama chose not to malign the basketball players and coaches at all, but rather, gave them high praise for the success that they had each achieved for themselves.
So, is the President merely symptomatic of a society that celebrates individual achievement on the playing field, but resents it in the corner office or the local store? Or is Barack Obama enabling us to become more disdainful of business owners as he points out their obvious reliance of infrastructure, while ignoring the taxpayer funded benefits that sports heroes enjoy?
It’s probably a combination of both. The President has been preaching spite towards private enterprise since at least 2007, and it has paid-off nicely for him in two national elections. And most of us will not watch the accomplishments of our favorite football players and teams over the next few weeks and say “…but you didn’t do that…somebody else paid for the turf you’re playing on… somebody else designed your uniform….there was a good coach along the way that somebody else paid for..”
Americans must again realize that all the government infrastructure and taxpayer funded services amount to nothing, if individual initiative is absent. And until we stop making a mockery of marketplace merit, prosperity will remain elusive.
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.
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