Was Pres. Obama channeling Willy Maunawili?

photo: courtesy whitehouse.gov

Last Friday, Pres. Barack Obama’s class warfare rhetoric soared in a speech to supporters in Roanoke, Virginia. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before from the particularly statist sort of technocrats who now dominate the Democratic party, such as Elizabeth Warren, running for the U.S. in Massachusetts. You might recall her “You built a factory? Good for you!” talk last August.

Pres. Obama’s remarks were basically the same as Warren’s, but the more I hear this kind of talk, the more I yell at my television. There’s something deeply unpleasant and entitled about their view of private success. Here are Pres. Obama’s points, and what pops to my mind when I hear them. Video of his remarks at The Washington Times, if you’d like to hear them in their uninterrupted form.

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me—because they want to give something back.

No one is stopping them. The IRS will gladly accept checks above and beyond what these folks owe. Knock yourselves out!

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.

Okaaaaaay, where are you going with this?

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.  (Applause.)

Hillary Clinton is pretty smart and famously hard-working. When then-Sen. Barack Obama trounced her to become to the Democratic nominee for president, did he think he just got lucky? Or did he think that he earned it by being even smarter and working harder and by being the better brand?

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.

Yes, and when I was kid, my parents paid their salary through taxes, just like I now fund teacher salaries through my taxes. Great teachers aren’t giving it away as a handout. And even the best of teachers can only prepare you for success; they can’t actually do your work for you. They can’t tell you whether you prefer to work 40 hours a week earning a salary and having weekends off, or take the risk of opening a business of your own, working 80 hours a week, on that the chance that you might make far more money that way. 

Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.

Well, yes. Us. We the People. Remember us? Everyone who drove to work at my office today paid gas taxes and vehicle weight taxes to pay for the roads they used. Owners of every vehicle that delivers paper to printers and magazines to newsstands do the same. These roads aren’t handouts we get from “somebody” else—to the degree that HONOLULU Magazine is successful, the people who thrive here and the people who fund the infrastructure are exactly the same people! So, to flip the Obama/Warren worldview back to something more realistic: You built a road? Good for you! That’s what we paid you for.

If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.

Really? Seriously? Maybe he’s kidding. I don’t know. Any small business owners want to chime in here? When you thought up your restaurant, or auto body shop, or public relations firm, or law partnership, or salon, did the government hand you an instruction manual, an advertising budget and a guaranteed customer base? If “somebody else” built your business, why is your business doing better or worse than its competitors? What could possibly account for the difference between successful businesses and failing ones if business owners have zero role in creating their own success above and beyond what infrastructure “allows”?

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.

Oh, now I know he’s kidding because he totally misrepresents the link between the government origins of the Internet and the private sector’s success that followed decades later.

The Wikipedia thumbnail history: “The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was the world's first operational packet switching network and the core network of a set that came to compose the global Internet. The network was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the United States Department of Defense for use by its projects at universities and research laboratories in the US.”

So a small subset of the federal government developed the earliest version of the Internet 40 years ago for no other reason than to do its own job better. That’s it. No one at DARPA sat around thinking, “What can we invent so that private companies can make money?”  Nor is making money off the Internet guaranteed for anyone just because it exists. Thousands of dot-coms failed in the 1990s boom. Those that succeeded saw a use for the Internet no one in government perceived, and took a risk in offering a product or service no government would offer. It turns out we like and need eBay. Turns out we didn’t much need Pets.com.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

I knew it! Pres. Obama is channeling a Rap Reiplinger skit!

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.

I’m flabbergasted. In the ceiling over my desk, there’s a sprinkler head. The entire Cades-Schutte building is plumbed with a privately owned and maintained fire fighting service. That’s right—at the expense of this building’s owner, the building would start to fight its own fire while the Honolulu Fire Department is still sliding down its fire poles to get here. Amazing! The entire nation works this way, a sprawling hodgepodge of private and public fire services. And because of it, we haven’t lost entire districts of Honolulu to fire since 1900. What on earth is the president talking about? Has he never looked up, in any building he’s ever been in, and noticed the sprinkler heads?

Well, that’s it. Did the president get applause? You bet. Haters gotta hate. “Hang the rich” is always an easy sell.  But right now, Pres. Obama is running for re-election as if he wants to be Crab-in-Chief of the crab-bucket. Not exactly a lofty ambition.