The Campaign Spot

Obama: You’re a Helpless Victim of Events, Just Like Me!

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Obama: Success or Failure Is Entirely Dependent Upon Whether Someone Helps You

For the past few days, the right half of the blogosphere has been bubbling about these remarks by the president on the campaign trail:

Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. 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. 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. (Applause.)

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. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

Take that, Straw Man!

So, which Republicans are calling for an end to streets and roads, or communal firefighting?

It’s a rehash of a diatribe from Elizabeth Warren — you know, the middle-class warrior whose campaign keeps running up thousands of dollars in bills at the luxurious “W” hotels

. . . In this, however, we see the distilled essence of the Obama reelection message.

He can’t run on his record. The “wrong track” numbers are still terribly high. His accomplishments like the stimulus and Obamacare are so unpopular that swing-state Democrats almost never mention them. So Obama is going to run on populist rage, and tell Americans that the only thing standing between them and their oft-delayed dreams of prosperity and security are rich guys like Mitt Romney.

Have no illusions, this strategy could work. There are a lot of Americans who have not achieved their dreams.

Some of them have not achieved their dreams because of insufficient opportunity or bad luck. But I would bet an even larger percentage of those who are disappointed with their lives have reached that point at least partially because of their own actions: not working hard in their education or their jobs, hesitation about pursuing opportunities, succumbing to drug or alcohol abuse, quitting endeavors in the face of adversity, cutting corners or run-ins with the law, drifting into aimless slacker-dom, and so on. To put it in Obama’s terms, there are a lot of people who failed who weren’t smart or hard working.

Most self-help authors begin with a very hard message to the reader: Whatever condition your life is in, it is up to you to change it. You cannot wait for some outside factor to make your life better. The only person who can seriously improve the quality of your life is you. Others can help, but if you’re not willing to expect more and better from yourself in everything that you do, their efforts will almost certainly fail. In the end, whether you succeed or fail in what you want out of life is up to you.

To a lot of people, this is a terrifying message. It means they can’t blame their parents, their siblings, their teachers, their peers, their bosses, society, the government, God, vast conspiracies, Fate, random chance, or anyone else for the fact that their lives are not what they want them to be. It means admitting that they’ve let themselves down, and some people will do and believe anything rather than confront truths as hard as that.

The failure of those who prefer to seek scapegoats instead of looking honestly at themselves is not something any federal program can solve.

But . . . the message that ‘it’s somebody else’s fault’ is a very seductive one, and one that is pervasive in society. Why, you might even see one the most powerful man in America insisting that his policies haven’t worked because of ATMs, corporate-jet owners, the Tea Party, Republicans, Japan’s earthquake, the Arab Spring, George Bush, ‘Fat-Cat’ Wall Street . . .


The Latest