“The centerpiece of [President] Obama’s re-election is attacking success,” Mitt Romney declared last night in his acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention. “We celebrate success in America, we don’t apologize for it.”
Does Romney have evidence that Obama disparages or apologizes for the achievements of successful people? He doesn’t.
When Romney uses the word, “success,” he isn’t talking about the achievements of a first-grade teacher in an inner-city school who helps kids learn to read and write. He isn’t talking about the success of the firemen or police officers who risk their lives to save the lives of others.
In Romney’s world, there’s only one kind of success or achievement that really counts — business success.
Just this morning, Herman Cain portrayed Romney as a defender of this particular variety of success.
“Last night, Governor Romney defined his vision for America and his vision for America is success, not failure,” Cain said. “And I believe that it resonates, particularly because I’ve been listening to business people and individuals, and they are tired of this rhetoric of division from the administration and they are tired of this rhetoric of attacking success and attacking business people in this country.”
In the modern GOP, it seems, you’re only a successful person when you get rich by starting (or inheriting) a business. If you’re a teacher or a fireman, you’re just a pathetic, underachieving public employee and a drain on our valuable tax dollars.
And if you happen to think that wealthy business titans should pay more than 13 percent of their income in taxes, then you’re a socialist.
So, what does Obama really think about success? Here’s what he said on May 5, 2012, when formally announcing for reelection:
“We believe the free market is one of the greatest forces for progress in human history; that businesses are the engine of growth; that risk-takers and innovators should be rewarded. But we also believe that at its best, the free market has never been a license to take whatever you want, however you can get it; that alongside our entrepreneurial spirit and our rugged individualism, America only prospers when we meet our obligations to one another and to future generations. . . .
“Look, we want businesses to succeed. We want entrepreneurs and investors rewarded when they take risks, when they create jobs and grow our economy. But the true measure of our prosperity is more than just a running tally of every balance sheet and quarterly profit report. I don’t care how many ways you try to explain it: Corporations aren’t people. People are people.
“We measure prosperity not just by our total GDP; not just by how many billionaires we produce, but how well the typical family is doing — whether they can go as far as their dreams and hard work will take them.
“And we understand that in this country, people succeed when they have a chance to get a decent education and learn new skills — and, by the way, so do the businesses that hire them or the companies that they start.
“We know that our economy grows when we support research into medical breakthroughs and new technologies that lead to the next Internet app or life-saving drug.
“We know that our country is stronger when we can count on affordable health insurance and Medicare and Social Security. When we protect our kids from toxic dumping and mercury pollution. When there are rules to make sure we aren’t taken advantage of by credit card companies and mortgage lenders and financial institutions. And we know these rules aren’t just good for seniors, or kids, or consumers — they’re good for business, too. They’re part of what makes the market work.
“Look, we don’t expect government to solve all our problems, and it shouldn’t try. I learned from my mom that no education policy can take the place of a parent’s love and affection. As a young man, I worked with a group of Catholic churches who taught me that no poverty program can make as much of a difference as the kindness and commitment of a caring soul. Not every regulation is smart. Not every tax dollar is spent wisely. Not every person can be helped who refuses to help themselves.
“But that’s not an excuse to tell the vast majority of responsible, hardworking Americans, ‘You’re on your own.’ That unless you’re lucky enough to have parents who can lend you money, you may not be able to go to college. That even if you pay your premiums every month, you’re out of luck if an insurance company decides to drop your coverage when you need it most.
“That’s not how we built America. That’s not who we are. We built this country together. We built this country together.
“We built railroads and highways; the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge — together. We sent my grandfather’s generation to college on the GI Bill — together. We instituted a minimum wage and worker safety laws — together. Together, we touched the surface of the moon, unlocked the mystery of the atom, connected the world through our own science and imagination. We did these things together — not because they benefited any particular individual or group, but because they made us all richer. Because they gave us all opportunity. Because they moved us forward together — as one people, as one nation.”
Those don’t sound like the words of a person who despises business success. They do, however, suggest that Obama views success far more broadly than Romney, whose definition of success — at least when he’s attacking Obama — excludes those whose achievements don’t fatten their bank accounts.
More inclusive are Obama and the vast majority of Americans who recognize that true success isn’t measured by wealth, but by the ways one’s work helps others and creates a stronger community.
That view of success embodies the wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”