Obama’s Biggest Blunder Yet, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 26 2012 @ 5:09pm


A reader quotes me:

"And that rhetorical aggression effectively – and unnecessarily – alienates anyone who has ever built a business or made a success of herself." Not anyone. Not me. I launched my own business with zero government assistance, just a couple of paychecks from my last job, and built it from zero to about $2.5 million (not a vast empire, but a comfortable living) over a decade or so. I am not remotely alienated by either Warren’s remarks or Obama’s. I’d suggest that the only people who might be alienated are those with either (a) a massive sense of entitlement or (b) a need to justify their relative comfort by pretending that there is some sort of linear relationship between hard work/virtue and financial success. That does not describe most of the small business owners I know.

And as small business owner, I would make two additional points.

The first is that my business does better (and I do better) when the economy is thriving, and there is a pretty clear 50-year connection between Democratic electoral success and economic growth. I’m pretty confident my profits will go up under a well-managed economy a lot more than my tax rate. The second, my employees and my customers have created a lot more wealth for me than I have for them. This idea that there is some kind of dividing line between "wealth creators" and the rest of the population is – to put it politely – hooey. I need them a lot more than they need me and any small business owner who loses sight of that is likely in big trouble.

Another writes:

I'm going to have to disagree with you on this – Warren's (and by extension, Obama's) speech is about trying to modify a cultural touchstone. Meritocracy in general is a cherished ideal in American culture – but somewhere along the line, the concept has gone further than the idea that an individual can succeed on their own within a society. First, it was the concept that an individual can succeed regardless of their government, and now it has become the concept that individuals are more likely to succeed if they are less involved with, or connected to, their government.

The Warren/Obama speech is intended to counter this concept. I can understand the case that the tone involved might be either patronizing or alienating: but how else is the case to be made that a) government isn't necessarily an all-consuming bureaucratic behemoth, and b) that there are some folks that can, and should, pay more into the system, in order to advance the larger society (themselves included)? It's certainly true that Obama's phrasing was an unforced error: but the idea behind that phrasing is not.


It appears Thomas Paine was also guilty of "political malpractice":

Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.