President Obama Channels Don Rickles

A lot has already been written about President Obama's July 13th speech in Roanoke, Virginia.  But none of the commentary explains the real anger that entrepreneurs feel after watching the speech.  Sure, there is much to be argued about whether small businesses and entrepreneurs are mooching from the government to which they pay taxes, and how small business success, if any, is the result of the federal government's generosity.  Similar arguments have been made in the past.

But the video of the speech has a certain Kennedy-vs.-Nixon-Debate quality to it: those who read the transcript have different reactions to those who actually saw the video.

On occasion, President Obama goes off-prompter and lapses into a schtick where he thinks he is a comedian and he is getting laughs at some improv stage somewhere.  That is what he was doing that day, being the comedian-in-chief.  Problem is, comedy isn't always nice.  Many times a comedian will belittle or mock a person picked out of the audience.  That is the type of comedian he was being that day, the insult comedian.  Kind of like channeling a mean comedian like Don Rickles, known sarcastically as "Mr. Warmth" and whose best-selling album was titled "Hello Dummy."

The July 13th speech in Roanoke, Virginia, lasted 42 minutes and the part of the speech where President Obama discussed small businesses and entrepreneurs can be found at 33:32, and lasts about a minute.  If you watch a video of that part of the speech without sound, the first thing you notice is that there is no smile, only a determined, forced smile from time to time.  President Obama looks angry, as if he is barely containing his foul tempter about the subject, even though he is speaking to a bunch of adoring fans.

And a real transcript of that part of the speech would really read like this:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: And you know there are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back.

They know they didn't -- if, if (stammer) you've been successful, you don't, you didn't get there on your own.  (Pause)

AUDIENCE: No!  That's right!  That's right!  That's right!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You, you didn't get there on your own.  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.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: 'It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.'  Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.  (Pause)

AUDIENCE: YES!  YES!  (clapping)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  


PRESIDENT OBAMA:  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.   


PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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 -- that (stammer) -- you didn't build that.

AUDIENCE:  That's right...

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Somebody else made that happen.


When he stammers as he did, he places himself in the role of an average person watching someone else make a false argument.  This is the straw man of the day: the entrepreneurs who stupidly think they are smart and have worked hard.  Then President Obama straightens up and speaks authoritatively to remind the entrepreneurs that "there are a lot of smart people out there," and "there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there."  The audience eats it up with laughter and clapping.

Of course, lost in all the laughter and applause is the fact that President Obama is talking about a whole group of Americans, small business people and entrepreneurs, who do most of the hiring, and whose companies create most of the new, innovative products in this country.  Yet, he is mocking them.  Making fun of them.  According to President Obama, those entrepreneurs falsely think that they are smart and have worked hard.  What a bunch of idiots!

And that is what is so infuriating about this speech.  It was the mocking of it all; the ridicule.

At least Don Rickles confines his ridicule to a single person called out from the audience.  Actually that isn't entirely true.  Don Rickles manages to offend people wherever he goes.  He just isn't asking those he offends to vote for him for president.