Whenever President Obama gets too far away from the teleprompter, he says something he genuinely means. That’s a disaster for him, because what he genuinely means is usually something odious to the average American.
Back in 2008, in a candid observation to a plumber named Joe, it was a raw expression of the rationale behind income redistribution, which many Americans properly regard as theft. Respect for private property is the cornerstone of American liberty, and one of the principle reasons government exists is to protect it. For the government to steal property and give it to others who have not earned it negates the reason for government the same way policemen ignoring the law negate the reason for policemen. What candidate Obama said to Joe the Plumber made it clear that the Democrats’ candidate for President embraced at least some ideas from within Marxist thought.
This time around, it is a raw expression of Marxist collectivism — only the Left wants us to think that it was something thoughtful and harmless.
Here is what the President said:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
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.
“Give something back.” As though providing wanted goods and services at an acceptable price, providing jobs for the community, and paying taxes as required by law do not give something valuable to the community on their own.
The Left has been adamant that the furor over this statement is because Obama was misunderstood. “He is not dismissing entrepreneurship,” they cry. “You’re taking him out of context.” Michael Smerconish, a moderate talk show host from my former hometown, Philadelphia, speaks calmly for the Left from the Huffington Post:
…the context of Obama’s two sentences was a far cry from an assault on American entrepreneurship. He was arguing that, while he was willing to cut government waste, he would not gut investments that grow the economy or give tax breaks to the likes of himself or Romney…lost in a squabble over “you didn’t build that” was the opportunity for a more serious conversation about social contracts.
To illustrate the more subtle point about social contracts, Smerconish brings up an earlier speech from Harvard professor and US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (she of the false “native American” claim,) running against Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, which has gotten fame and notice all over the Internet. Ms. Warren, in an off-the-cuff talk in Andover, MA (a bastion of posh leftists like herself, as it happens,) expressed the same idea as President Obama in more eloquent fashion:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.
You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
“The rest of us paid for…” Oh, my God, the arrogance…
What is astounding is that Smerconish and the rest of the Left think we on the right object to these sentiments because we do not understand them. They are incorrect. We understand them perfectly, and reject them. They arise from a system of thought on the basis of which a third of the world was subjugated under brutal tyranny in the 20th century, and hundreds of millions of citizens were murdered by their own governments. We would like to avoid those results if we could, thanks.
These statements from the President and Ms. Warren presuppose that a business exists solely to benefit itself, and nobody else. That particular form of ignorance has its roots in Marxian thought, namely, the notion that the bourgeois make their wealth on the backs of the poor while providing nothing in return, like vampires.
Nothing could be further from the economic truth. The truth is that the primary aim of every successful business is to benefit the consumer, and it only makes profit if it succeeds in benefiting the consumer. This benefits the entire community by providing desired goods and services at an acceptable price.
You don’t think so? Wait ’till you hear how people whine about the loss if it’s forced out of business. Remember how they declared that Catholic hospitals had no right to go out of business, because they provide a unique public good? Remember how they wailed about Wal-Mart putting smaller retailers out of business?
Additionally, the successful business pays taxes. The amount it pays in taxes is fixed by the legislature. The laws passed by the legislature define, for the sake of the community, what the business’ fair share is. By definition in a free republic, if the business has paid its taxes according to law, it has paid its fair share. It is not benefiting from roads “the rest of us” paid for; it is benefiting from roads it helped pay for itself, by paying taxes.
And finally, the business provides jobs in the community, and pays its employees for performing those jobs. The employees also pay taxes, which fund the roads and bridges about which Ms. Warren is so concerned.
So for every successful business that is moral and legal, the social contract has already been fulfilled. The businessman owes nothing more than he has already provided. He is entitled to keep all the profit that is left over, not just “a big hunk of it.” He has already paid back to the community, and owes nothing more.
The entire conversation about the social contract is already encompassed by the US Constitution, and by the body of laws formed under it. The terms of the social contract are defined by the law of the land. When an individual or a business has met the obligations set out in the duly constituted laws, that individual or business has met the terms of the social contract — and owes nothing else. The same is true of people “paying their fair share;” it is completely defined by the law. When a person has met the obligations of the law, they have paid their fair share — and owe nothing else.
If progressives want to reopen that discussion, it signals their intent to revise the basic social contract reflected in the Constitution. (Will they admit that? Never.) They have flooded the nation with their calls for a redefinition of “fair share,” and their notion that somehow, legitimate businesses need to “give back” more than they have already given under the existing social contract.
Have they told us how they intend to redefine those things? Not really, but the structure of ObamaCare gives us a clue: almost the entire “law” consists of the creation of a series of unaccountable bureaucrats, each of which will decide on their own how medical practitioners will meet the standards they produce. There is no recourse for changing the standard produced by the bureau. There is no oversight for the bureau.
They seem to want to be able to define “fair share” and “giving back” themselves, and to modify them at whim. That way, they can create a permanent debt, one that can never be fully repaid. This gives them permanent control over the populace, without any possible appeal or recourse.
This is the language of control. Individuals with control issues do something similar: they create a permanent, interpersonal debt that somehow never gets fully repaid, so you remain under their control. Loan sharks do the same: whatever you pay goes against interest, but somehow the principle never gets repaid and you remain under their control. Political controllers create the idea of a debt that you owe the collective that can never be repaid; that way, you will always be under the control of the collective.
By contrast to this, the US Constitution guarantees that the definition of “fair share” will be determined by properly selected representatives of the people. No person will be held to an arbitrary standard created by some tyrant’s whim, nor will the standard vary by the individual’s race, religion, or national origin, nor may it be changed except by due process of law. Those are the terms of the social contract designed to protect our liberties — the contract that Progressives now want us to reexamine.
Oleg Atbashian, at the PJMedia blog, captured the collectivist spirit of Obama’s remarks perfectly today, and explained in detail where we’ve seen those ideas before. (Note: free registration might be required.) He observed, among other things, that Obama’s intent to pin the success of businesses on the collective encompasses the same spirit by which the left blames its failures on anything but its own ideas. None of us are responsible for our failures, nor for our successes; we all belong to a collective consciousness, and our destiny comes to us from beyond our control:
In the erstwhile USSR, the government redistributed not only the nation’s dwindling wealth; it redistributed successes and failures. All achievements were credited to the Party and its leaders, as well as to a centrally appointed regiment of “Heroes of Socialist Labor” who conspicuously “sacrificed for the common good.” The failures were blamed on foreign aggressors, Western imperialism, enemies of the people, kulaks, saboteurs, corrupt bureaucracy, irresponsible middle management, selfish greed, and lack of proletariat consciousness, as well as on natural disasters and bad weather. Sound familiar?
Yes, we are all dependent on each other, and yes, we are all part of each other. Like so much of that about which the Left lectures, it is annoying, not because it is false, but because it is trivial. We are interdependent; and we cannot build a tree house before God has first created trees. What of it? Every adult knows that he or she has to function as part of an interdependent society to survive: and those of us who have grown up know that when one has lived a moral and virtuous life, one has fulfilled one’s obligation to society. The interdependence of everything is not something liberals grasp and conservatives don’t; it’s something liberals think is new revelation, like teenagers discovering “world peace” for the first time, and conservatives understand is already encompassed in the way we do things. No, the grocer did not build his grocery by himself; and by the same token, I did not fill my refrigerator without the grocer. I thank him by paying his price and honoring the rules of his store. He thanks me by providing fresh vegetables and employing my neighbors. We all get along fine. Beyond that, we owe each other nothing more than decent treatment.
But none of that negates the crucial fact that we are responsible for our failures, and we are responsible for our successes. The businessman really does deserve credit for building his successful business, and President Obama really did insult him when he said that he was no smarter and worked no harder than anyone else. Maybe he didn’t mean it that way, but that’s what he said.
We all get the same benefit from government: we drive on the same roads, and the same firemen put out our neighbors’ fires. So, why aren’t we all equally successful? Because, despite the prating of America’s Marx-influenced political left, individual effort really does make a difference.
President Obama wants us to give him leave to redefine at will how much we all must contribute to the collective in order to fulfill the social contract. The world has already seen where that leads; that’s why we object. We think the social contract under which we currently operate works just fine, thank you very much. We did not misunderstand him at all.