The Bob Brunton story brought a lot of visitors to this website. It also prompted a lot of heated commentary in the comments box. The reason I posted that story is because I felt the president was downplaying the contributions of entrepreneurs. Now, the president is saying that he just meant that small businesspeople didn’t build roads and bridges. I am convinced that he was implying more than that in the remarks he made.
Phil Klein has made the case well, but I’d like to echo his analysis and maybe add a bit of my own. As Klein pointed out, there are two paragraphs that really matter here. The second one is the one that has gotten all of the attention because of the “you didn’t build that” phrasing. But the preceding paragraph is the one that bothers me. Here it is:
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.
With this bit of rhetoric, I think the president made a demagogic appeal to the masses. In essence, he is arguing that there isn’t anything all that special about the people who build successful businesses. There are a lot of people who are smart and who work hard, he is saying. And they aren’t all successful. In other words, the implication goes, things just worked out for the folks who think they made it on merit. “Why should they benefit from their success? Things just worked out in their favor.” This is a common appeal to the masses by the demagogue. “Those who have succeeded won their rewards through luck or some other sleight of hand. Why do they deserve what they have???” The subtext is obvious. “Why shouldn’t you have some of what they have?”
The reason I wanted to highlight Bob Brunton is that I think he is typical of many small business owners. He took risks with his own money, worked very hard for a long time, accepted the pressure of making payroll each week for his employees, contended with competition, and managed to earn a good living. There is something special about someone who can do it. I am especially sensitive to the contributions of these people because I’ve never had to stand in their shoes. Every one of us who has been able to count on a paycheck for a week’s work should be grateful to the people who did what was necessary to give us the opportunity to have a job.
Sure, there are a lot of smart and hard-working people in the world. Not all of them have built businesses. The ones who have ARE special. They had the drive, the vision, and the sheer grittiness to tough it out and see something through. These people should not be viewed as some kind of honeypot from which we can extract revenues for income redistribution. They should be honored, encouraged, and protected from excessive taxation and regulation. If we kill the drive they have to build something from the ground up, we’ll kill our country.