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Obama’s success schizophrenia

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President Barack Obama responds to a question from a member of the audience during a campaign event.AP2012

Ever notice how selective President Obama is when he bashes success?

He implies that many wealthy peoples’ success makes them greedy—that they don’t pay their “fair share” in taxes. Yet he milks them for campaign contributions. 

He insults the success of small business owners, saying, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Yet he leans on small business owners to build jobs and the economy (which would help his re-election).

A recent cartoon by Steve Kelley of the New Orleans Times-Picayune puts a twist on Obama’s success schizophrenia. The cartoon’s headline is “Why it’s best that the president isn’t going to the London Olympics.” It shows three athletes on the Olympic victory stand as Obama says to them, “You didn’t win that.”

While the cartoon mocks the president, it actually underestimates the cynical way Obama manipulates the success of others. In fact, he would never talk to athletes that way.

Obama only lauds success when it benefits him. When Hollywood or Wall Street showers its wealth on him or when American athletes win Olympic medals or championships, the president gushes. At those times, he is intoxicated by success and loves how its perfume rubs off on him, politically.

When it comes to success, our president is a taker, not a maker.

However, when he can use personal success to incite the resentment and envy he believes he needs to win re-election, the president relishes bashing success. Thus, arguing for higher taxes on financially successful people, Obama has said, “If you’ve been successful, 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 hard working people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.”

The president’s suggestion that success derives from something other than personal effort is missing when he enthuses about sports and athletes. He doesn’t demean the smarts and hard work of athletes by saying that other people are also smart and work hard. He doesn’t make athletes feel less accomplished because coaches and parents (among others) helped them. He doesn’t rip athletes for becoming super-rich because of their talents. He doesn’t accuse jocks of lying, cheating and stealing as they rose to the top. He doesn’t question the meritocracy of sports. He doesn’t recommend bending the high performance standards of sports to include the less successful under a diversity quota. He doesn’t diminish the personal achievements of athletes by calling them “lucky” or “fortunate.” And he doesn’t claim that all sports success is an outgrowth of big government (yet).

But the president will demonize successful business people—including his opponent, Mitt Romney—in all those ways. He doesn’t attack athletes for their success because he loves to bask in their reflected glory. He attacks business people because fomenting resentment of their success—particularly their wealth—distracts from his own lack of success with the economy and job creation.

Among the most successful business people—or most successful athletes—only a minority deserve to be reproached for playing unfair because they’ve committed an actual crime or crossed an ethical line and cashed in on it. But Obama exposes the distortions of his demagoguery when he fails to make such distinctions.

It’s sad that Obama resorts to tarring so many business people as villains while cozying up to athletes and trying to ride on their heroics. It’s sad because the president himself has never been a real success in business or sports. But he feels free to denigrate or appropriate the success of others to divide or unite voters. 

When it comes to success, Obama is a taker, not a maker.

For Obama, nothing succeeds like success—when he believes he can exploit others’ success for his own success.  

Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net. He is a consultant to corporate and political leaders including Steve Forbes.