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It turned out that President Obama’s July 13 appearance in Roanoke took on a life of its own when the Romney campaign leaped all over one segment of the speech.
The president was discussing the role that any community plays when a business is successful. He was basically paraphrasing the remarks of Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
Warren’s talk – which went viral on the Internet – began with the words “Nobody in this country got rich all on their own.” She then explained how any business endeavor utilizes the resources of a community, such as roads, schools, training programs, etc., to eventually become successful.
She went on to say that once that business succeeds – and some people become rich from it – they then have an obligation to pay their fair share of taxes so other people can also be successful.
There’s nothing radical about this; it’s not Marxism. It’s simply good common sense, and an attempt to ensure that we try to be fair in this country. But the president left out one key word that would have made his meaning clear.
He said, toward the end of that segment, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” Clearly, he should have said “you didn’t build that alone.” The lack of that one word allowed the Romney crowd, and this very newspaper, to say or imply that Obama is hostile toward small business or ignorant about it (the hint here is the usual thing: he’s a socialist!).
The Romney campaign immediately put an ad on the air featuring a small business owner who talked about how hard his father and he had worked to build their company, and expressed his shock that the president couldn’t understand it.
Well, NBC News reported later that the gentleman’s company had in fact received a loan from the Small Business Administration and also accepted at least one other source of federal funding. This revelation made the president’s point.
This newspaper’s editorial of July 13 cited the displeasure of the National Federation of Independent Business. It also quoted an official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The president, the federation said, had shown “an utter lack of understanding and appreciation for the people who take a huge personal risk and work endless hours to start a business and create jobs.”
That’s nonsense. The president is not oblivious or hostile to the contributions that small businesses make in a free market economy. But people should know – and the editorial didn’t tell them this – that the chamber and it’s little brother, the federation, are nothing more than Republican Party mouthpieces.
Both groups mostly endorse conservative Republican candidates, and always take the business side of any issue between business and labor. They are little more than shills for corporations (big corporations, in the case of the chamber) and they have no understanding of the lives of working class people.
Whenever a hike in the minimum wage is proposed, both groups come out with their routine “the sky is falling” warnings about what paying people more will do to “destroy small business.” But it never happens.
Conservatives just can’t handle anything that reflects capitalism as something less than perfect. Yet the history of the system shows that it’s unstable, that it produces downturns, recessions, and depressions.
Clearly, the voice of the people – and in a republic, that’s the government – must play a role in our economic lives.
That’s what the president meant, and that’s what he said. And if you struggle to pay your bills, despite all your hard work, you do not have a friend in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.