There is a point here that Obama is correct. It is the old saying “No man is an island.” The same is true with every citizen of a country. Whatever a person aspires to do as a carpenter, artist, chef, writer, athlete or in any profession does not stand alone. Obama is correct that someone inspired, trained or provided a tip for a person to become successful. The same is true with businesses. Everyone uses the infrastructure paid for by taxes.
“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, Obama said.”
There is no argument there. It is a valid point, but Obama went too far in his next statement.
“Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
This is a major gaffe by Obama because it has opened him to criticism from business leaders. He can also count on this comment making it into a hard-hitting Romney ad. Obama also emphasized that many people work hard, not just the wealthy and successful, so hard work is not a gateway to success by itself. That is obvious, but it only dug the hole he was making deeper.
David Chavern, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, responded to Obama’s comments. His comments were reported in the Daily Mail:
[T]he basic idea behind Obama’s comments, and other similar sentiments expressed by allies, “is really objectionable and offensive.”
“The problem with the Obama administration’s view,” he wrote in a blog post, was that “it only looks at the good outcomes” rather than what went before.
Mr Chavern wrote: “Success is apparently a collective effort — but where was that ‘collective’ during the periods of risk-taking and failure? The vast majority of businesses fail. Period.
He added: “Every day millions of people put their lives, savings, houses and families on the line and work 20 hours a day just to grab their small slice of the American dream. Where is the collective when all of this is going on? And if the collective is really responsible for success, how come everyone isn’t successful?”
Chavern is right. Hard work and good roads are not the only steps to business success. It requires capital, risk-taking, smart decisions and a dose of good luck.
Whatever Obama was seeking to convey here has been completely distorted by his message. He knows better. He has written books. It takes more than hard work and a good English teacher to make that happen. He was elected president, an enormous accomplishment. While he did not do that alone by any means, many have had similar resources and failed. He took the risks and guided his campaign. That personal accomplishment is not diminished by the many who helped him.
This is a bungled attempt to explain the need for higher taxes. Yes, businesses need roads and bridges, but what an entrepreneur builds is still a personal accomplishment. Society and government did not do that.
If Obama had left out the line “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,” then he would have made his point without controversy. Adding those words allows his critics an easy target while increasing doubts about whether Obama really understands how business works.