We haven’t been in a hurry to offer an opinion, because often, context comes out later and can shade the meaning of a statement.
But a review of the video shows that Obama seems to have meant exactly that: successful Americans didn’t achieve that success without help.
And in many ways, he’s right. An innovation-friendly business atmosphere, a solid public education establishment, even the transportation infrastructure are products of a society, not any one individual’s efforts. And they’re crucial to success.
But in a fundamental way, Obama is wrong. It’s the risk-taking and the self-reliance that makes American entrepreneurship unique.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s blog pointed out an instance of just such entrepreneurship and independent-thinking recently.
Remember that bad weather the East Coast faced earlier this month? That “derecho” that knocked out power to so many homes and businesses?
One of those businesses was the Port City Brewing Co. in Virginia.
“After losing power from last week’s storm, Alexandria’s Port City Brewing Company feared it would lose 13,000 gallons of beer,” the Washington City Paper reported. “That’s 104,000 pints. The brewery now brings word that five of its six tanks are just fine. The sixth? It fermented at a higher temperature than intended. But that’s not a bad thing. Turns out there’s a style of ‘steam beer’ developed in San Francisco that is brewed at higher temperatures.”
So instead of crying to the government and seeking a bailout, the entrepreneurs at Port City Brewing are putting out a limited edition beer called the “Derecho Common.” It will go on sale in August.
The TPPF’s Michael Joyce says this is what makes entrepreneurs successful.
“Innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit at Port City Brewing is yet another testament to this country’s resilient small business community,” he wrote. “The brewers had the flexibility to adapt to unforeseeable changes and capitalize on the new lemon life delivered.”
The American Spectator’s James Antle III acknowledges the modicum of truth in Obama’s words.
“No man is an island,” he wrote last week. “People benefit from growing up in strong families or having good teachers. People can be fortunate in the friends and relatives who come into their lives, in the doors of opportunities that open before them. Life isn’s always fair. Sometimes good people have bad luck; the opposite is also true.”
(Even Port City Brewing echoes this; it issued a letter to the “D.C. Beer Community” thanking it for its support.)
But not everyone responds to the ups and downs the same way, or makes full use of the opportunities society has presented to them.
“Lots of people attend public schools and have teachers,” Antle wrote. “Very few people become Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Everybody uses the roads and bridges the factory owner uses to bring his products to market. But not everyone builds a factory.”
The moral of this story?
“By all means, thank your mother or father, a teacher or soldier, a friend or supportive group for contributing to your success,” Antle said. “Thank even your lucky stars, if you don’t want to cling bitterly to religion and thank Someone Else. But don’t belittle personal achievement.”
So here’s a toast to our entrepreneurs. They achieve their success because to them, the glass is half-full — and sometimes, it’s a new brew altogether.