Yuval Levin is correct: The President’s attempt to explain business success as a result of government is not only revealing, but odd. Here is the President’s full quote for context:
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. (Applause.)
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.
This is standard class warfare from the President, designed to put those who have invested in business and who earn decent income against those who make less (or at least feel like they make less). It is also nonsense. Almost everyone believes that government has a role in society; the debate is always over how much of a role and in which applications. The idea that businesses started not because of hard work, but because of government’s involvement is ignorant of reality and is a poor attempt to make sure government gets credit.
Many families – my own included – had ancestors who came here for opportunity and started with very little. They worked hard and saved so that the next generation of family would have more opportunities and so on. Did government have a role in creating an environment in which people could succeed? Absolutely, but a limited one that was purposefully designed to be limited to allow for free enterprise.
The reason that people have succeeded in achieving the American Dream is because of their hard work in a free enterprise system. The capitalist market has been the most successful system of lifting people out of poverty and of creating wealth. My immigrant great-grandfather would scoff at the idea that my family is where it is today because “somebody else made that happen.” That’s an insult to him and many other Americans who have risked sweat, blood, and capital.
The President uses divisive rhetoric like this all the time. He has constantly put Americans against each other for his own political tactics, has divided the country by forcing through massive and contentious legislation, has attacked the Supreme Court, and is now intimating that his opponent is a felon not only unfit for the Presidency, but who should be in jail. The President is not only wed to a warped idea that everything has a necessarily collective (read: government) aspect to it, but he also divisively demonizes anyone who opposes that view. He is not only a failure in terms of results, but in terms of the kind of leadership he promised.