President Obama struck a raw nerve Friday when he made statements during a campaign swing through Pennsylvania that, in the eyes of many, denigrated entrepreneurship to little more than blind luck and the good works of every other person -- especially the government -- rather than the business person's own drive, sweat and initiative.
"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," Obama told a group of college students. "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. 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."
What was left out was the rest of the story, as the late radio commentator Paul Harvey might have said. Who is the "somebody" that Obama referred to? His comments leave you -- and those college students -- with the feeling that it is the government, specifically the federal government.
It's not. The "somebody" who made all those things possible is the taxpayer.
How did the government build America's transportation system? It spent money sent to it by taxpayers, not the least of which were business owners.
How did the government fund the research that created the Internet? It spent money sent to it by taxpayers, which include business people.
How did that special teacher pay for his or her mortgage or rent, buy food and clothes, buy and put gas in the car to get to work? You know the answer as well as we do. Money was sent to the state, local and federal governments by the taxpayers, which include business people.
Government is not the benefactor of business. People and businesses that pay taxes are the benefactors of government. The idea that government has redrawn the symbolic Uncle Sam from a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-work kind of guy to a free-spending dotty old uncle who ought to be wearing red and white fur and riding in a sleigh is abominable.
The facts are that no one is going to create a business just for you and hand it to you with a big, pretty bow under a lighted tree. Government has no business taking tax money from others and borrowing even more from foreign governments so it can drop cash in your hand just because you're a heck of a nice person. Government doesn't give Americans a blessed thing. It takes money in the form of taxes -- a procedure Washington has turned into a fine art -- and spends it. Government didn't give Americans bridges, roadways, airports, the Internet, schools, colleges, universities or anything else. We use and fund government to create the infrastructure we use.
At least that's the way it should work.
The problem is, we have given our government power that has gone to its collective head. In the minds of many in D.C., we are incapable of accomplishing the most menial of tasks without the watchful supervision of lawmakers, the White House and bureaucrats. Listen to both Democrats and Republicans when they talk about tax "cuts." Invariably they'll say, "We're allowing people to keep more of their hard-earned money."
Taxpayers are the ones who should be doing the allowing. Sooner or later -- we hope, at least -- Americans will figure out that we are the dog and that Washington is the tail, and it's been wagging us for far too long.