Stephen Covey, the management guru who died this week, would have had a hard time selling his books in Benjamin Franklin's America, or Abe Lincoln's. His best seller "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" would have been considered a self-evident truth, one drummed into earlier Americans by schools, churches and the Puritan ethic.
Today, Covey's thoughts about how to become a success by applying principles with a proven track record seem innovative and cutting edge. His work is a rebuke to the notion that government can do it all for you.
Contrast Covey's ethic with what President Obama said during a campaign stop in Roanoke, Va., last Friday: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." He mentioned roads and bridges as examples. Did he mean we should thank government for the structures because without them we might not be able to travel to a job interview, or to work? The subplot in the president's campaign remarks seems to be that none of us can make it without government. So what happens to those who do manage to succeed on their own? Are they to be taxed and regulated to death as a lesson to other upstarts?
As I read the president's remarks, I thought of those in my life who have helped me. My parents, of course; they remained married and taught me about thrift, paying bills on time and personal responsibility. There were also high school and college teachers who inspired me.
Journalistic mentors included David Brinkley, Frank McGee and Sander Vanocur. These accomplished broadcast journalists started small and seemed to succeed without much, if any, government help. Many of their generation benefited from the GI Bill, a government-funded resource that helped pay for college for returning World War II veterans. But unlike most government aid programs, the GI Bill assisted initiative, it didn't replace it.
Later, a newspaper publisher -- Tom Johnson -- opened the door for me as a columnist. He didn't sell it. I sold it by visiting scores of newspaper editors around the country, telling conservative audiences to subscribe to the paper when it started carrying me. That would fit under Stephen Covey's number one principle: be proactive.
A financial adviser helped me make good investments so I can take care of my wife and myself should I ever decide to retire (liberals, don't hold your breath). It was money I earned, not money government gave me.
Government that is too large and controlling stifles ambition and initiative by penalizing success.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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