I’ve been struck lately by how quickly each presidential campaign attacks the other for the slightest misstatement. A most recent attack on President Obama grew out of his remark that none of us got to be successful on our own.
The statement reminds me a little bit of a quote by Alex Haley--a famous Pulitzer prize winning author whose writings often depicted the strivings of African Americans--who once said every time you see a turtle on a fence post you know he had some help getting there. I’m certain that what President Obama meant, and I subscribe 100% to the theory, was that all of us who have had any modicum of success are in part indebted to the country in which we live and the government which provides us so many things.
Imagine for a moment the hardest worker in the world who seeks to make a living by transporting goods across the country by truck. How well would he or she fare without the interstate system? The argument can be made that these folks paid for the system via their motor fuel tax; however, that argument would not stand up to close scrutiny. One of the facts concerning the motor fuel tax is that there is probably as much, or more, tax paid on the gasoline consumed on city streets which goes to maintain and build the state and interstate highways.
In a recent article, Cal Thomas ridiculed the statement made by Obama and pointed to the newscaster icons Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite as great successes on their own with absolutely no help from government. Unfortunately, this shows a woeful lack of knowledge about the regulation of the broadcast media by government. Imagine for a moment if there were no Federal Communications Commission and anyone could broadcast on any frequency they chose thereby creating a system where the most powerful station with the most wattage would be the station most listened to, to the exclusion of others. It is a basic principle in our present capitalistic and democratic system that the airwaves in America belong to the people. That ownership of the people is protected by healthy regulations concerning the use of public airwaves.
I am equally amused by successful doctors, engineers, and even lawyers, who boast of being self-made with absolutely no help from anyone. However, the majority of us have graduated from public schools where taxpayers have paid the lion’s share of the cost of our education which enables us to pursue our professions to a successful end.
And there's more. Doctors generally practice their trade in hospitals they didn’t pay for. Lawyers make money at the courthouse they didn’t pay for. Owners of airlines fly on airways made safe by the Federal Aviation Commission. And, passengers should and do take comfort from the fact that only qualified persons sit at the controls of airliners as required by our government.
How would the successful shipowner, no matter how hard he might work, or how clever and smart he may be, succeed without the Corps of Engineers paid for by the daily working taxpayers to keep the waterways of our nation open and properly dredged?
The successful person who continually boasts of totally being responsible for his or her success, no matter how hard they worked, is a braggart with an empty boast. They somewhat remind me of a quarterback who, no matter how talented, would claim he is responsible for all of the touchdowns made by his team. But a quarterback without the blocking of his linemen will never be a star. Similarly, capitalists investing in a refinery will never be successful without the teamwork of pumpers, gaugers, steel men, welders, metalworkers and ordinary laborers.
Of course, hard work and perseverance is to be appreciated and even revered in our society. Unfortunately, under our current system, many things do not speak to that end. The earnings of ordinary men and women who work as hard as they can work, day and night, contribute more to support our government than does the money earned by inherited wealth, investment, economic ventures in foreign countries, or suppliers of military goods who are chosen because of their political connections rather than their low prices or quality products.
Speaking as a former elected official, it is an actual fact that successful politicians do not elect themselves. And neither would successful businessmen get anywhere without the assistance of faithful employees and loyal customers--all the while being protected by their government in numerous ways as well.