A Nation of Individuals

For my “first post” on the new 15 Hands Tough blog, I’m reblogging something I wrote a little over a year ago. This is one of my rare political posts, but hopefully it gives you a flavor for what you’ll be seeing here apart from gear reviews and fun things about the outdoors.

Originally Published July 17, 2012

I do not normally post political blogs, because to my mind nearly every political statement has another side, another story, and I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I love playing devil’s advocate, and so long as the argument has some rational basis in supportable fact I can respect both sides. When a political argument gets personal or deviates from provable reality, then I start to have a problem – but my issue there generally manifests as a refusal to engage. I am not a huge fan of President Obama, I will say that right up front. I am a supporter of some of the things he has done, and not for others. I’m like that with every politician – some ideas I can get behind, some I can’t. This recent speech from President Obama, however, has me actually fired up more than any political debate has in many, many months. I am going to post you the complete statement, and my deconstruction of it:

“We’ve already made a trillion dollars’ worth of cuts. We can make some more cuts in programs that don’t work, and make government work more efficiently…We can make another trillion or trillion-two, and what we then do is ask for the wealthy to pay a little bit more …

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.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for president – because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.” President Obama, Roanoke, VA.

In paragraph 1, the President puts right up front what he is really saying; he is asking for the “wealthy” to “pay a little bit more.” That is 100% acceptable to say if that is the basis on which he is running, and I think it probably is. I would love a definition of “wealthy” and a “bit more,” but this speech was at a fundraiser so I don’t expect that. So there is nothing particularly remarkable about this paragraph other than the fact that the President is setting up his base position.

Paragraph 2 is something slightly different. He claims support from “wealthy, successful Americans,” which he actually has. My eyebrow begins to raise here, because there have been talks of raising the tax rate on households that gross over $250,000.00 per year, but those “wealthy” Americans that have publicly thrown support behind this higher tax idea make far, far, FAR more than that (think Mr. Warren Buffett). There is a huge difference between Mr. Buffett’s income and a household with children, a mortgage, and some student loan payments living in Los Angeles, California – but I digress. The point here is that I’m starting to feel that the President is out of touch with the reality of the middle class.

He continues to say, “look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own.” I do not disagree with this statement at all. We all had help somewhere. No one is disputing this. Moving on…

“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.”

Absolutely. There ARE a lot of hardworking people out there that aren’t making it. There is always someone out there that is a little smarter and works a little harder than any individual…but does that mean that I didn’t work a little harder and a little smarter than someone else to get where I am? Of course there are a lot of hardworking people out there – but there are also a lot of people that AREN’T working hard. There are a lot of people out there that have no interest at all in working hard. I’m not quite sure what any of that has to do with anything – there are motivated individuals that work hard, and some make it and some don’t – but that shouldn’t mean that those that DO make it shouldn’t be recognized.

In essence, it seems to me that the President is setting up for his next statement by saying, “you’re not so smart just because you are successful.” We all know I agree with that – we all know the successful, wealthy people that we just look at and shake our heads, wondering how they got there. I think that is the exception, however, and not the rule. The President continues:

“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.” Here is where I have the problem. If you’ve got a business, you absolutely built that. But maybe I’m jumping the gun, as some have already accused. Let’s continue: “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.”

No, the internet didn’t get created on its own, but neither did “government research” create it. Government money (partially) funded large scale research and development projects and think tanks such as the National Science Foundation and the RAND Corporation, but both of those projects had healthy funding from private sources. Even if, hypothetically, government funded those projects in their entirety, that government money had to come from somewhere, and it certainly did – it came from the taxpayers. Only people who work or have income from investments pay taxes, so someone was writing those checks so that the government could then fund these projects. Essentially, private citizens worked hard, paid taxes, and voted for representatives that furthered funding for science which then produced innovation for those same private individuals to derive additional profits from. Again, I understand this was said at a fundraiser – but it was also said by the President of the United States and the leader of a nation that prides itself on its innovators. But let’s move to the next paragraph:

“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.”

Well sure! Our nation was created when a group of innovative trailblazers set out to create a new nation. In that great document, The Declaration of Independence, those trailblazers made it clear:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

At the penning of that statement, those men essentially became nationless. They created a nation from almost nothing – the nation did not create them. It did not. They did succeed because of “their individual initiative” and because they did it together. But next to these great ideals of the individual contributing to the creation and sustaining of a great nation, our President compares the thought of individual excellence to a bunch of idiots trying to all run their own fire service. He says, “I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.” No one is suggesting that we don’t need a facilitator, some kind of organization (a Government!) to help our nation use our resources as one unit rather than the clowns all jumping out of the clown car trying to put out a fire.

The President’s last paragraph is a fitting conclusion to a fundraising speech, with a great tag line – “We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.” I wholeheartedly agree, Mr. President. We do rise or fall together. Together we are absolutely better, so let’s use those hardworking innovators and make our government what it should be – a way to help us individuals work together to make our great nation even greater. Government could be a great facilitator, and do great good with the support of the people, and of the taxpayers. The People create the government, and the government exists at the will of the people, as archaic as that idea now sounds. That great document, The Declaration of Independence, acknowledges that political bands can be dissolved, but that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” is fundamental. Our government is a creation of our innovators, our trailblazers, and could not exist without us. I could never vote for someone who feels that Government creates and exists for any other reason than to serve the people. I understand this was one statement, at a political fundraiser, but no matter how I slice this speech I can’t escape the feeling that our current President feels that government is good in itself, and that I cannot abide.

It bears mention that President Obama’s statement is an almost identical iteration of what Elizabeth Warren came under fire for last year.

She said: “I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”–No!

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.” Elizabeth Warren, August 2011.

Her tone indicates that business owners haven’t paid, or don’t want to pay, taxes that support the basic infrastructure – roads, defense, fire, police, education. It isn’t “business owners” and “the rest of us” – it is just “us.” We can debate the tax structure and how much people should pay, but this anger toward success is not productive. Let’s remember what the original American trailblazers knew – political bonds dissolve, but the People formed this most perfect Union, and to keep what we have, we do have to work together.

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