Wausau Daily Herald: Obama's vision puts government first

Originally published in the Wausau Daily Herald, July 25th, 2012

Like many Americans still enduring Obama's broken economy, I was astounded by the president’s recent comments.  It was another Joe-the-Plumber moment where — detached from a teleprompter — he committed the classic gaffe of revealing what he truly believes.

“If you’ve got a business,” President Obama said, “you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.”

This comment is incredibly insulting to entrepreneurs who work 60 hours a week building businesses that provide products, services, and employment to society.

The president said he is “always struck” by businessmen who think they alone deserve all the credit for their own success. Instead, “we do things together,” he said. Congratulations, Mr. President — nearly every adult who has succeeded in American business realized that long ago.

The president believes he is spouting some profound truth.  Instead, he is highlighting his own ignorance and lack of respect for free enterprise.
As someone who spent 31 years building a manufacturing business, of course I would tell you that I didn’t do it alone. Anyone who’s talked to businessmen has heard the same thing: We couldn’t have made it without our dedicated employees. We owe it all to our customers. Our families provided great support. Our communities were crucial. And, yes, government provided infrastructure — from roads to the stable legal environment of a free society.

Obviously, government infrastructure is important to free enterprise’s success. But it is free enterprise that funded it, by giving us the most successful economy the world has ever seen. This circle of prosperity is threatened when the president disparages the role of business.

What the president does not understand, is entrepreneurial spirit and the role of leadership. He knows so little about it that he imagines people rise to lead companies without learning the importance of cooperating with others. He has so little respect for the private sector that he hasn’t bothered to figure out what any successful entrepreneur knows — that you succeed by keeping your customers and employees happy. He doesn’t understand the private sector depends on people working together voluntarily. It’s as if he never heard of making a deal.
It’s from this position of ignorance that he presumes he’ll teach businessmen a lesson.

Yet it’s the president whose vision is too narrow. “There are some things,” he said, “we do better together.” He then listed these things.  All his examples involve the federal government.  This is incredible, but not surprising from a man who really does believe the center of economic activity lies inWashington.

If President Obama had any experience in the private sector, his definition of “we” would be much richer. “We” do many things better together in a free market thriving within a civil society.

Shortly after our independence, Alexis de Tocqueville was struck by how good Americans were at working together — in businesses, in charities, in towns, and by building schools, libraries, associations and communities. That’s still striking today. It’s no wonder that the people who organize the voluntary good works in our communities are often the people most successful in business. Entrepreneurship teaches you to work with others. President Obama might have known this if he had respect for any actual business people.

Instead, he believes all goodness flows from government. His vision seems to be a nation of citizens grateful mainly for whatever benefits an all-powerful government deems they deserve.  We’ll all wait to be told by federal authorities what to eat, what to drive, how to run our town’s schools, how to get our health care, how much money we can keep and how to succeed in business. He talks of us all being “in this together.” But for Obama, “this” amounts to making us clients of an ever more controlling federal government.
The problem isn’t just that we cannot afford this. Obama’s effort is bankrupting America. But worse, as government grows, our freedom recedes. The citizen’s relationship to government becomes the most important relationship in his or her life. The more important government is and the more that it tries giving us, the less room there is for others. We become more like the France that de Tocqueville knew — where the people did not work together voluntarily the way Americans did because they instead relied on the state, not each other.

There’s a better vision. It’s one where we work together, under the discipline of Adam Smith's invisible hand, for mutual benefit without Washington directing every move. It’s one where government has a place — but the extraordinary spirit of the entrepreneur is primary.

Mr. Johnson is a Republican senator from Wisconsin.