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Obama to Olympians: You Didn't Win That
Swimmer Ryan Lochte claimed the first gold medal for U.S. athletes at the London Olympics on Saturday. But Barack Obama has a message for Lochte, and other American medal winners: You didn't win that.
But what about all the hard work, all the training, that Olympic athletes endure to attain success?
Maybe Olympic success is the result of smarter training?
Sorry, America's Olympic athletes; you didn't win anything. You're simply the end product of governmental policy.
Wait, some might object, you're taking Obama's recent comments in Roanoke out of context. He was talking about business owners, not Olympic athletes.
However the case could be made that Obama's argument has more validity -- if it has any at all -- about the impact of government on the success of individuals in athletics than in business. After all, the one specific that Obama offered in his Roanoke remarks was that "Somebody invested in roads and bridges," in order to help business owners succeed. Whereas sports programs at collegiate and scholastic levels, where top tier athletes are identified and receive years of training, receive much of their funding through tax revenues, and Title IX -- mandated by the federal government--opened playing fields to women for wider participation in athletics.
And, of course, athletes also use public roads. Often to train on.
Yes, it's laughable to suggest that the government, and not Lochte, is responsible for his gold medal in the men's 400 meter individual medley -- or, say, Michael Phelps's 16 Olympic medals heading into these 2012 games. Both have spent countless hours in the water; Phelps sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber; indeed, most Olympic athletes have centered their young lives around efforts to succeed in their events.
But it's also laughable for Obama to claim, "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that."
As someone who has started a business, and ran it for fourteen years, I contend that many, if not most, business owners put at least as much work and time into their efforts as Lochte, or Phelps, put into training.
Countless hours in the pool? Try 80+ hour work weeks for months, or years, on end, with no guarantee of income.
Sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber? Try going sleepless at night, worried about making payroll.
Think an Olympic athlete endures stress? Try watching your high-interest credit card debt rise into the tens of thousands because no bank would approve a loan for a venture as risky as yours.
And business owners typically don't get endorsement deals.
They get to deal with government red tape.
Most small business owners will tell you that the government hinders their business, not helps. A friend of mine is currently trying to expand his business. For two years, he has been dealing with various government entities, trying unsuccessfully to get the necessary permits for that expansion, one which could mean new jobs and opportunities for others.
Obama pointed out that business owners benefit from government services. They do. As do all Americans, business owners or not. But business owners also pay more for those services than average folks do; higher utility bills and higher property taxes are but two examples. And they pay more for the use of the roads to which Obama referred, through vehicle registration fees which are based on weight and therefore more expensive for heavy commercial vehicles. In effect, business owners often subsidize these very services for others.
Unlike individuals, businesses also provide a key governmental function: collecting and remitting to the government sales taxes. They receive no compensation in return. The tax system -- the one that funds public education and other services, such as the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges upon which Obama based his contention -- as it now exists would not work without business owners' cooperation.
It can be argued that these public services simply would not be there for the general public without business owners and their contributions.
Watching the video of Obama's Roanoke remarks, there can be little doubt that, sans teleprompter, he unintentionally revealed his disdain for individuals who achieve success, his belief that it is governmental policy, and not individual effort and initiative, that matters. Something to keep in mind when Obama, no doubt, welcomes Olympic medal winners to the Rose Garden for a photo-op. Then, he will smile and praise their achievements.
Especially if some of them are from swing states.
William Tate is an award-winning journalist and author
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