Built By Obama: What You See Is Not What You Get
The dark side of Obama's statement: collective achievement equals collective punishment
As Obama's "you didn't build that" quote is being probed and analyzed, I'd like to point out that the idea of redistributing other people's achievements is only a tip of an enormous ideological iceberg. Its invisible foundation sinks deep into the murky depths underneath the floating wreckage of American values.
Lest we take Obama's words out of context and are accused of "swift-quoting," let's review the full passage. Speaking at a campaign stop in Roanoke, Va., on July 13th, Barack Obama said:
"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, when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."
A friend with a PhD in mathematics made this comment: "We scientists say that in order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first build the universe - and that takes about four billion years. But that doesn't mean we can't build anything new from existing resources. So telling a businessman 'you didn't build that' is pure sophistry. Such phrases have always been a preamble to looting. Coming from the President, it's chilling."
Now let's put on our intellectual scuba gear to explore what lies beneath Obama's superficial altruistic bragging, which until now has served him as an unsinkable platform.
Apart from the simple untruth that "government created the Internet," Obama's words boil down to the old collectivist bromide that the individual is nothing without the society and the state. As one would expect, Obama didn't come up with it on his own. Standing on the shoulders of his collectivist predecessors, he ineptly restated Mussolini's motto: "All individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived in their relation to the State." And Benito's fellow collectivist Adolf Hitler agrees: "Our nation can achieve permanent health only from within on the basis of the principle: The common interest before self-interest."
If the businessman "didn't build that," who did? Apparently, all of us did! And if the credit is equally shared, so must be the reward. Jackpot winners all! No more worries about paying the mortgage or filling the gas tank. This must be what thrilled Obama's voters during the 2008 election, as his speeches removed old moral barriers protecting other people's property and made it available to all, establishing a new morality of forced redistribution of wealth, previously known as looting.
But here's the catch: everything in this world has a price. If all of us can be credited for someone else's achievement, by the same logic, all of us can be punished for someone else's failure. Just as all individual credit goes to the society as a whole, so does all the blame. And if the entire group, class, nation, or race can gain moral authority because some of its members did something right, the same standard grants the moral authority to blame any other group, class, nation, or race because some of its members did something wrong. In the history of collectivism this concept translated into wars, slavery, pogroms, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, expropriation of wealth, deportation, internment, resettlement, and genocide.
It appears that the two notions, collective achievement and collective punishment, are as inseparable as two sides of the same coin.
But there's more: if nothing is to your credit, then nothing is your fault. What is the cost of that bargain? In a seemingly fair trade-off, we lose our right to individual achievements but gain the right to blame others for our failures. Collectivism provides us with a sufficiently analgesic illusion of fairness. If you turn out to be a loser, it's not because you are unqualified: on a whim, with objective standards removed, you can now self-righteously put the blame on those close to you, or on the unfair system, or even on the big wide (and deeply flawed) world.
Before you know it, your moral impulses are reduced to an immature tantrum of a toddler who breaks things and hits a babysitter; a teenager who curses at his family and blames the Universe for his pimples; a graduating student of Marxism at the Occupy Wall Street encampment who vandalizes private property and blames capitalism for not providing him with a high-income job; an aging member of the "drug revolution" who blames The Man and The System for his depression; or the President of the United States whoblames corporations and bank CEOs, modern technology and "messy democracy," Fox News and all other media, the Japanese tsunami and the Arab Spring, as well as Bush, Reagan, Congress, the GOP, and the entire city of Washington for his lack of achievement.
Coincidentally, such is also the moral foundation of collectivist societies, from Cargo Cult followers to the so-called People's Democracies. 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?
Find the guilty and the opportunistic politicians will come. The problem is, they come not to help you but to help themselves. The latest example is the current grievance-mongering U.S. government - a massive self-serving army of patented demagogues who have yet to improve one life or right a single wrong. In the final analysis, collectivism is a dead end. Releasing the floodgates of government corruption is only Act One in the drama of a declining nation.
Now that we have gotten to the bottom of it, let's review Obama's quote from this new perspective:
"If you have failed, somebody along the line ruined it for you. There was a lousy teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unfair American system that caused you to fail. Somebody benefitted from your demise. If you're a loser, it's not your fault. Somebody else made that happen. Titanic didn't sink on its own. Corporations and insurance companies made a lot of money off of it, so they must be complicit. The point is, when we fail, we fail not only because of our individual shortcomings, but also because others have teamed up behind your backs. Vote for me - I'll punish the guilty and give you what's rightfully yours."
It turns out that, after all, "someone else made that happen" is merely a flipside of "blame someone else." One can't exist without the other.
In contrast, the argument for individualism and competitive private enterprise cannot be "flipped" - not without distorting its nature and moral purpose. The statement, "It's my achievement and I have the right to what I earn," manifests only positive, objectively true human values.
Unlike its alternatives, capitalism doesn't grow out of a dark, indiscernible mass of moral entanglements. And unlike crony capitalism - a corrupt monster created by government intrusion into the economy - free market capitalism is transparent. Just like the greatest invention of our time, the personal computer (brought to us by free enterprise), capitalism has a user-friendly interface: WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET.
Chik-fil-A-Quake: What the Media Didn't Say
If the media reports an earthquake was a breeze in the forest, did the earth still move? I’m not sure TownHall Finance is the natural venue for that question, but I’m also not sure why the Denver Post—my local paper—put a significant political and cultural event on page umpty-something, in the business section.
If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, you might have missed something big last week. Under fire by gay activists and their media amplifiers, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy unapologetically confirmed he supports the biblical definition of family as he understands it. This modern heresy quickly went viral. Reaction was harsh. Big city mayors and councilors channeled Al Capone with a badge: “Don’t file no stinking permit applications in our town, Chick-fil-A!” Pundits nodded righteously. But, what happened next didn’t follow the script.
Backlash welled up, not just from social conservatives, but fiscal conservatives and libertarians, outraged that politicians would trample the First Amendment, brandishing political litmus tests for the right to do business. Social media and web commentary buzzed with rebellion. A great day of fried chicken and Chick-fil-A appreciation was proposed.
Last Wednesday, I met friends in north suburban Denver at about 11 to beat the rush. Fail. The lot was packed, the drive-thru and building tightly coiled by a boa of cars, tail extending to the street. Inside was standing room only, with a switch-back line that triggered post-Disney traumatic stress. Yet, amid the din, cheer was high. The besieged staff moved helpfully and efficiently, and the line shuffled like a smooth deck of cards.
The friendly mob cycled through, holding steady in size the hour I was there. Judging scientifically by anecdotal Facebook posts, it stayed that way all day and evening, at every Chick-fil-A around Denver, throughout the state, and across the nation. The outpouring was unforeseen, the magnitude unimaginable. The chain’s coffers got a short- and probably long-term boost.
After 20 years around politics, I’ve seen how activists can generate pretty good ink just from a press release and 50 people on the Capitol steps in front of a borrowed guitar amplifier. I also know how hard groups sometimes have to hustle to assemble their 50. So I was eager to see what the media would make of this human tide.
Thursday’s Denver Post business page answered: “Coloradans voice their opinions on Chick-fil-A; Outlets flooded by supporters and opponents.” Not even close. Without space to fully deconstruct, I’ll acknowledge the article did say the crowds were large and the protesters few. But the headline and details caught maybe half the story and missed the essence. A few thoughts, on the event and the coverage:
Especially without any central organizer or major media promotion, the numbers were staggering, and broadly replicated across the country. If a protest warrants a story, this event deserves a Pulitzer-nominated multi-part investigative series.
It wasn’t a forum about the First Amendment, Cathy’s marriage views, or even political bullying. Whatever their motivation, the crowd arrived as a smiling, hungry lunch and dinner crew. It was a massive show of implicit support and protest, for reasons that deserve examination.
My table included a friend who supports civil unions, one for gay marriage, and one who thinks government should get out of the marriage business, letting people and churches make their own agreeable arrangements. We didn’t discuss the fourth person’s view, or anyone else’s that day, because lunch was don’t ask don’t tell.
It’s clear many diners intended to rebuke bullying politicians and the un-American idea that approved political views are required for permission to be in business. Does this resentment go further, and reflect anger at transgressed lines between private and public management, corporate and government bedfellows sharing money, policies, and favors? Is that resentment building toward a November eruptian?
Another strong positive is rejection of a vicious double standard: One side airs views through a respectful media, while others get vilified for different opinions. It’s breathtaking that liberals seek to redefine fundamental cultural concepts and muzzle the opposition; those who question or disagree should be attacked and cowed into silence, even while they speak for majority opinion. That happened with California’s ballot measure on marriage, as more than one financial supporter was hounded from high profile jobs. Wednesday was a salutary fist at that ugly trend.
Finally, what to make of the subdued coverage. Did our scribes not recognize an important cultural moment? Because it doesn’t interest them or flatter their vision? That’s the fish-don’t-know-they’re-wet view of media bias. Or, do they know full well and work carefully to contain the story? Of course, either way, the effect is the same.
Social Security not deal it once was for workers: "People retiring today are part of the first generation of workers who have paid more in Social Security taxes during their careers than they will receive in benefits after they retire. It's a historic shift that will only get worse for future retirees, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. Previous generations got a much better bargain, mainly because payroll taxes were very low when Social Security was enacted in the 1930s and remained so for decades."
Obama's fake birth certificate and other stories that don’t get covered: "Based in Washington, D.C., Diana West writes a weekly column nationally syndicated by the Universal Press Syndicate in Kansas City. It's a courageous column tackling topics seldom broached in the pages of many mainstream dailies. ... 'You're not being paranoid, it's absolutely true,' Ms. West replied. 'For a journalist, the comfort zone of discussable topics is definitely shrinking.'"
Why we shouldn’t tax companies: Because companies don’t pay taxes: "It's not unusual to hear the economically illiterate insisting that companies must pay more in taxes. This is illiterate because companies do not pay taxes. They cannot, for only people can bear the burden of a tax: someone's wallet has to get lighter and that wallet must belong to a person."
Counsel of despair?: "Over the years, I have heard many people say that the government’s adoption of a laissez-faire stance during a business recession or depression amounts to 'do-nothing government' -- the unstated assumption always being that it is better for the government to 'do something' than to do nothing. Recommending such a hands-off stance is often described as a 'counsel of despair.' Moreover, it is frequently added, in a democratic polity, the electorate will not tolerate such a policy. Implicit in such criticism is the assumption that the government knows how to improve the situation and has an incentive to do so."
Government Motors goes subprime: "President Obama continues pointing to his crony bankruptcy bailout of GM as a success. ... Now it turns out that much of the recent sales growth GM has bragged about is due to GM jacking up its sales with subprime loans."
Parenting bill could split baby many ways: "State Sen. Mark Leno wants California to recognize that a child can have 'more than two legal parents.' So he wrote a bill, SB1476, which, he argues, doesn't change the definition of a parent (for example, live-in lovers would not qualify) but allows family court to recognize more than two parents only 'when it is required to be in the best interest of the child.' He stresses that if the bill becomes law, 'None of our sponsors or supporters believe that this authority will be used very often.' SB1476 is for rare cases, Leno argues, like baby M.C., as she is known in court documents."
Obama shows what he thinks of the military: "In a move that puts new meaning to the term battleground, President Obama's re-election campaign and members of some military groups are on a collision course over voting rights in the critical state of Ohio. The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee have filed a lawsuit to block a new state law allowing men and women in uniform to vote up until the Monday right before an election, while the cutoff on early voting for the rest of the public is three days earlier. Men and women in uniform typically get more time than other voters to send in absentee ballots since they may be serving in an overseas or domestic location that is not close to their home polling station."
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