When the Word “Success” Confuses a President

By Josiah Cantrall
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

“Did you make this all by yourself?” asked the astonished county fair judge

The little girl’s lips began to form a “yes”, but then she paused, looked at her exhibit, and smiled slyly. Holding up her hand stitched clown costume, she innocently shook her head and said, “Nope. The government did.”

I am assuming the judge voted for Obama because he didn’t find the joke very amusing.

During a speech in Pennsylvania, President Obama created a controversy that in recent weeks has come to define his re-election campaign. Here’s an excerpt, taken from the official transcript made available by the White House. (Lest anyone accuse me of taking his words out of context).

“– 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.     

“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.”

What was the President trying to say? If business owners don’t truly build businesses then do valedictorians really earn A’s?

No one should be confused by this viewpoint. This is a contrasting vision to America’s legacy as the land of opportunity.

Let’s look at the left’s most recent target, Chick-Fil-A , for example. It is a company started by one person that has grown to become a family favorite for thousands across America. In 1946 Truett Cathy wanted to make an above average chicken sandwich. Cathy is widely credited with inventing the chicken sandwich as we now know it. Ironically, Chick-Fil-A’s version still comes with just two pickles, the exact amount Cathy used when he first created it. With sales of 4.1 billion, Chick-Fil-A is the second largest fast-food chicken restaurant chain in the U.S. 

According to President Obama, however, the government, not Cathy, made this huge success happen. Obama’s words are an audacious challenge to this country’s fundamental belief in hard work and an individual’s capabilities. Are we now supposed to believe a benevolent government bureaucrat, not Cathy, decided the sandwich should have two pickles instead of three?

Stop the absurdity.

And one would think Obama’s campaign team would. You would think they would immediately switch narratives. But instead they have doubled down. In another recent speech President Obama attacked Mitt Romney’s plan to cut taxes and spending as Bush-style “top down” economic policies.

“We tried that and it didn’t work,” Obama said, “Just like we’ve tried their plan, we tried our plan — and it worked.” He concluded by saying, “That’s the difference. That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term.”

Is that really the difference? Just which plan is actually a working plan? Bush had 52 straight months of job creation while we are currently facing the 41st straight month of an unemployment rate over 8%. That’s the worst unemployment continuation since the Great Depression! Also, more people are currently on food stamps than in any other time in U.S. history. Does this sound like a plan that is working? Again, only if we redefine the meaning of the term success.

By normal standards, the latest GDP numbers don’t help Obama’s claim. In the second quarter our nation’s gross domestic output dropped to an annualized growth rate of 1.5%. That’s a frighteningly low number. Many experts consider this percentage to be the halfway point between acceptable post-recession growth and a double dip recession.

Further analysis of the Commerce Department’s report shows disposable income increased by 4 percent in the second quarter versus 6 percent in the first. That’s a 33percent deceleration of growth. Residential and nonresidential fixed investments also experienced decelerated growth rates.

In layman’s terms, costs are going up and people have less money to spend on luxuries and investments. These are not good signs for an already troubled economy. Nor are they signs of a “working plan”.

President Obama is wrong– dangerously wrong. Our GDP continues to flail, unemployment remains frighteningly high, record numbers of Americans are on food stamps, and those with jobs are struggling to cope with the increased cost of living. Added together, these components equal failure, not success as we know, or knew, the meaning of the word.