President Barack Obama’s July 13 remarks discounting individual achievement in business success have sparked much discourse and debate, but precious little has gotten to the heart of the matter.
Arguments over the extent to which private entrepreneurs get “help” along their way to prosperity, or over the context of Obama’s phrases and wordings, merely skirt the periphery of the bigger issue, which is personal accountability versus government responsibility.
All governments infringe on individual rights. It’s the nature of the beast. Our successful constitutional approach to limited self-government was founded in the idea that the bare minimum of power be granted to the national government. The rest were reserved to the people. That way, the government’s inherent oppressive tendencies were minimized, and the people’s freedoms were maximized.
The more freedom people have, the more personal accountability determines outcomes. Freedom is the furthest thing from equality. Indeed, freedom is inequality in its highest degree, because it allows people to choose from among the broadest gamut of choices. Some people choose to be irresponsible. Some choose to be criminal. Some choose to live reckless lives. Some choose to be cruel.
The flip side to Obama’s championing of collective success is that successful people also had detractors and distractions, challenges and setbacks of someone else’s doing. They succeeded in spite of irresponsible employees, unethical competitors, theft and vandalism, and so forth. It’s hardly fair to credit the roads Wal-Mart uses for its success, unless we’re also going to blame the roads for the mobility of thieves and robbers who prey on the stores that cost the company millions.
The mindset betrayed by Obama’s remarks isn’t about business and success, but rather about government and boundaries, and that’s why it falls apart logically when taken to extremes. But logic isn’t the determining criterion; control is. Government wants credit for assisting free enterprise because it wants greater authority.
Turned around, Obama’s sentiments about nobody building a business by themselves are echoed in liberal excuses for criminals—nobody commits crimes by themselves, either. The schools failed criminals, the economy failed them, society failed them. The more government downplays personal accountability, the more it promotes its own importance.
But the problem of more government is that government isn’t a higher power. It, too, is a human enterprise, no less flawed or marred by the basest human failings than any other. The loftiness attributed to “public service” is a dangerous myth. If history has shown anything, it’s that no institution has been more subject to abuse with greater harm to humanity than governments.
Our American civic memory sometimes seems to stretch back to our own origins only. It’s as if we have forgotten that governments existed long before our revolution, and that in fact our government was designed to correct the flaws and bolster the strengths of previous examples.
The sea-change difference in our system was the shifting of sovereignty to the people, and away from the government. Ever since, government has been trying to shift it back. That’s why politicians tend to falsely equate “anti-government” with “anti-America.” The country isn’t the federal government, but Washington thinks it is. And unless we the voters remind them it’s not, one day it will be.
Bull’s-eye on thugs
The security-camera video of an attempted armed robbery on an Internet café down in Ocala, Fla., offers a couple of powerful insights about crime in our society. Friday the 13th proved unlucky—but not fatally so—for two teenage robbers who allegedly burst into the café that night with visions of free loot in their heads.
As is so often the case, one of the 19-year-old suspects had been fired from the business, but his employment convinced him there was “a lot of money there,” his accomplice told police. Wearing gray hoodies and facemasks, the pair is captured on video entering the cafe with all the bravado of a wolf among defenseless sheep. One of the men points a semiautomatic handgun at several of the patrons, who are visibly terrified. The gunman starts herding people, waving his weapon, and when he turns back toward the camera, a man seated on the far wall rises from his seat.
The video is silent, though witnesses say the robbers were shouting for them to get on the ground and pull out their wallets. The man takes a couple of steps toward the robber holding the gun (the other wields a baseball bat), assumes a shooting position and opens fire. The suspected robber is hit before he can swing his own gun around, and suddenly the swaggering thugs are scurrying like mice as bullets chase them out of the store.
Both suspects were wounded, and arrested shortly afterwards. The alleged gunman told police their plan was to “barge in, get the money and leave,” and that nobody was going to get hurt; he never expected that anyone would be armed.
But 71-year-old Samuel Williams was armed and licensed to carry. Which potentially saved lives, and perhaps taught the young criminals a positive lesson about actions and consequences.