Jon Lovitz, Obama and Elizabeth Warren

I’ve always been a fan of Jon Lovitz. I’ve always had a similar sense of humor, generally found absurdity and comedy in the same types of things. I remember back in high school when he was on Saturday Night Live trying to get his “Liar” character voice down in a perfect imitation.

When he got flak for going after Obama on taxes – while on stage in his comedy club – he rose back into my consciousness and I started to realize that perhaps there was even more nuances to him than I imagined.

Don’t get me wrong: I tried my hand at stand-up comedy for a couple of years and I have a great respect for those who decide to make a living at it. You simply can’t be a comic and be stupid. You just can’t last; you’ll get eaten alive. I knew from the characters he created and the types of subtle, obscure things that he satires, that there were depths and subtleties to his talents.

But most people in show business are absolutely idiotic when it comes to politics. To this day I have a hard time watching anything Matt Damon is in, and my skin crawls every time I see Alec Baldwin. The notion that people who get paid to write the words other people write have any standing on politics – and that people listen to them – is a sickening perversion of the status they are afforded in society.

Lovitz, though, wasn’t trying to make a comment on policy. He wasn’t making sweeping generalizations about the motivations of groups of people. Instead, he was objecting to a specific criticism that he felt was leveled at him, personally.

After listening to the clip, I wanted to hear more, so I went and downloaded the entire podcast. I realized two things. First, the clip of Lovitz’s Obama rant was about 2% of the entire episode, and second, I wanted to hear all of the episodes.

[Side note: I found the episodes to be extremely entertaining and gave a tremendous insight into the ‘everyman’ kind of guy Lovitz is. Either he really is the greatest actor who ever lived, or he really is a down-to-earth, introspective, and high class guy. At least, I have a great deal of respect for his respect of other people, as well as refusing to name names when he disliked or disagreed with people.]

Lovitz, in case you didn’t know, struggled to make it as a comic for years before making it onto SNL. About 3 years ago, he opened up his own comedy club, trying his hand at being an entrepreneur. As I said, I tried my hand at standup for 2 years before coming to the conclusion that I didn’t want to run the gauntlet of living in poverty for a dozen years before maybe making it. I also ran my own consulting company for 7 years (as it turns out, those two timelines overlapped completely).

So, I understood Lovitz’ frustrations, even if it was a much smaller scale, with Obama’s idiotic claim that “if you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Someone else made that happen.”

This, of course, coming from a person who has only worked for 6 months in the private sector, calling it working “behind enemy lines.”

What’s worse, it’s the eerie echo of Elizabeth Warren – yes, the fake Indian Elizabeth Warren – who claims that there “is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody.”

It’s understandable that Lovitz (and me, and a whole bunch of other people who have tried to be entrepreneurs in their lives) would bristle at these words.

Why? Because neither Obama nor Warren earned their success.

Lovitz is wrong when he says that the things that Obama has done in his life are amazing. What’s amazing is that he’s managed to get other people to create his success!

Elizabeth Warren’s entire success was not based on her academic merit or her ability to be a rockstar researcher. Instead, she cheated her way through her entire career by claiming to be something she wasn’t.

In fact, apparently she recognized that she was going to be able to get mileage out of accepting the jump-start of her adopted status in the mid-80s, when the “Victim Profit Motive” began its full swing.

For Obama’s part, he’s never really held a job where he’s actually had to produce anything. His teaching schedule was remarkably light and his ‘performance’ in the U.S. Senate was practically non-existent.

There’s even good grief that he couldn’t be bothered to write his own book about his own father.

For crying out loud, this is a man who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a month after taking office, something that Lovitz satires with piercing skill in light of Obama’s recent comments.

Thing is, neither Obama nor Warren did earn their success, so it’s understandable that they would assume that nobody did.

The entire debate is frighteningly (and maddeningly) parallel to an exchange in Atlas Shrugged between James Taggart and his future bride Sheryl. James, who has just taken credit for his sister’s hard work and success is ranting about the success of Hank Reardon, who spent 10 years developing a new type of steel despite James and his Washington political cronies’ best efforts to stop him. Sheryl has been conned into thinking that James earned his success, and is genuinely confused as to why he would be upset by someone else’s success.

——

[James] turned to her abruptly, the words exploding as if a safety fuse had blown. “He didn’t invent iron ore and blast furnaces, did he?”

“Who?”

“Rearden. He didn’t invent smelting and chemistry and air compression. He couldn’t have invented his Metal but for thousands and thousands of other people. His Metal! Why does he think it’s his? Why does he think it’s his invention? Everybody uses the work of everybody else. Nobody ever invents anything.”

She said, puzzled, “But the iron ore and all those other things were there all the time. Why didn’t anybody else make that Metal, but Mr. Rearden did?”

“He didn’t do it for any noble purpose, he did it just for his own profit, he’s never done anything for any other reason.”

“What’s wrong with that, Mr. Taggart?” Then she laughed softly, as if at the sudden solution of a riddle. “That’s nonsense, Mr. Taggart. You don’t mean it. You know that Mr. Rearden has earned all his profits, and so have you. You’re saying those things just to be modest, when everybody knows what a great job you people have done—you and Mr. Rearden and your sister, who must be such a wonderful person!”

“Yeah? That’s what you think. She’s a hard, insensitive woman who spends her life building tracks and bridges, not for any great ideal, but only because that’s what she enjoys doing. If she enjoys it, what is there to admire about her doing it? I’m not so sure it was great—building that Line for all those prosperous industrialists in Colorado, when there are so many poor people in blighted areas who need transportation.”

“But, Mr. Taggart, it was you who fought to build that Line.”

“Yes, because it was my duty—to the company and the stockholders and our employees. But don’t expect me to enjoy it. I’m not so sure it was great—inventing this complex new Metal, when so many nations are in need of plain iron—why, do you know that the People’s State of China hasn’t even got enough nails to put wooden roofs over people’s heads?”

“But . . . but I don’t see that that’s your fault.”

“Somebody should attend to it. Somebody with the vision to see beyond his own pocketbook. No sensitive person these days—when there’s so much suffering around us—would devote ten years of his life to splashing about with a lot of trick metals. You think it’s great? Well, it’s not any kind of superior ability, but just a hide that you couldn’t pierce if you poured a ton of his own steel over his head! There are many people of much greater ability in the world, but you don’t read about them in the headlines and you don’t run to gape at them at grade crossings—because they can’t invent non-collapsible bridges at a time when the suffering of mankind weighs on their spirit!”

She was looking at him silently, respectfully, her joyous eagerness toned down, her eyes subdued. He felt better.

——–

Obama and Warren echo Taggart’s missive, angry with those who earn their success because they did not.

In comedy, just like owning a business, there are far more people working against your success than those who are trying to help you. Anyone who has ever tried to freelance, be a graphic artist, or a web developer knows that every day is a battle just to get paid at all.

The government, for its part, has been doing anything except helping businesses. More than 4200 new regulations were created by mid-2011, costing billions in compliance, meaning that if you want to start a business you have to make sure you’re up on the 13,000 new pages where you can get shafted (not counting all the previous pages where you can get shafted).

As Lovitz points out in the followup- and last, sadly – podcast – he merely is pointing out what other people are thinking (albeit saying it in a humorous way). It’s understandable that he’s going to get kickback from those who either can’t understand or refuse to understand, those James Taggart-wannabees.

One last thing of note. Lovitz, by nature of his training and experience, is no stranger to criticism and likely has a thick skin. But he still seems genuinely surprised at the attention he’s getting on this topic. Reading through the flames he’s received is sobering. As I read through the vitriol, the unfocused hate, the unadulterated willful ignorance that is spewed towards him, I’m absolutely amazed at his ability to continue to take the high road and remain a high class act.

Mr. Lovitz, I’d love to buy you a beer some day!

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7 Comments

  • Brandon Riley (@BrandonJRiley) July 20, 2012 at 09:30

    Excellent, empirical, thoughtful analysis. Exactly what I expect from you sir.

    Reply
  • Tyler Britten (@VMTyler) July 23, 2012 at 15:44

    So I’ll start by saying I agree with your opening premises- that most showbiz people sound like idiots when they talk about real issues, comedians are generally pretty smart, and Jon Lovitz does seem to me smart and genuine.

    I’ll follow that up by saying I respect Lovitz’s opinion on the current “tax the rich” mantra and I think he makes rational arguments. I think we can agree on the basic message that as part of a society that provides some common good (“e pluribus unum” and all that jazz) everyone should pay “their fair share.” The real question is what “fair” means and that’s really the heart of the issue.

    Now, specifically on the topic of President Obama and Elizabeth Warren. I feel you are doing your argument a great disservice by intentionally twisting their words to change the meaning to fit. If The President’s real meaning of “you didn’t build this” was your business and not “bridges, roads” was so clear, why would you need to edit that part out?

    What The President and Ms. Warren are essentially arguing is that for most of the modern history of our country, our economy has been a public-private partnership. The role of the government (from an economics standpoint) was to create rules and enforce them, also to supply services ‘for the common good’ that couldn’t be provided by private enterprise. By the people/society providing (through the government) basic infrastructure (roads, etc), and a stable, safe society (police, fire, military, social services) it creates an environment for the private sector to create products, employ workers, and succeed overall. There arre great examples of countries who had or have too much government (Soviet Russia) and too little (Somalia) and it failed.

    To say The President and Ms. Warren are saying that “government did it for you” is simply a straw-man argument. What they’re simply saying is the opposite is aslo untrue- “government just gets in the way of ‘producers’ producing”. Expecting those who were successful leveraging the infrastructure and security that the government provided to pay into that system is not “angry at success.”

    Libertarians love to think that the free market cures all and regulates itself, but they always leave out a very important part of Adam Smith’s ‘perfect competition’ concept- it requires perfect information which doesn’t actually exist in the real world for most markets and markets get distorted. It’s the difference between a nice story and reality. That’s why Atlas Shrugged is as much idealistic fantasy as the Communist Manifesto.

    Look at the rampant deregulation of the financial industry in the past decades, by both sides of the aisle. What did we ended up with? Total economic destruction. Normally we learn our lesson (like after the S&L scams, the great depression, etc) and re-regulate, but in this case the current administration and congress added mostly toothless nonsense that was practically written by the same firms it designed to guard us against.

    Reply
  • J Michel Metz July 23, 2012 at 16:29

    Hi Tyler,

    Thanks for contributing. I know you were chomping on the bit over Twitter and I’m glad you took the time to right out some cogent thoughts that 140 characters simply don’t do justice. 🙂

    I take issue with the notion of Obama referring to “that” as “roads and bridges” for a number of reasons. Why? Because “roads and bridges” are a “those,” not a “that.” The antecedent in the sentence, both from a grammatical as well as a intentional context was clear, as evidenced by the previous portion of the speech. Certainly “sort of a God” Obama can handle simple grammar.

    But here’s what he said – in its context:

    “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 “that” isn’t the part taken out of context, it’s the “roads and bridges” crap. Everything else in the paragraph is indicative of Obama’s intention and the spirit with which he delivers it. It’s that spirit that has people up in arms.

    There are several fundamental flaws in Obama’s (and Warren’s) argument. As Thomas Sowell points out, “Since everybody else uses the roads and the schools, why should high achievers be expected to feel like free loaders who owe still more to the government, because schools and roads are among the things that facilitate their work?”

    The government, as I said, does not *produce* anything. It doesn’t generate “revenue,” despite the word-twisting to make it more palatable. All it’s finances come not from production but coercion. Moreover, it is unfair to the point of absurdity to force people to pay taxes, tolls, property taxes, restrict school choice, and then somehow have the audacity to say that business owners somehow unduly benefitted from this lack of choice.

    Obama and Warren seem to equate building a business with the tools necessary to do so (in this case, roads, bridges, schooling, etc.” Tools can be built, bought, given or stolen. Obama’s argument is that they are given. Others on the left believe they were stolen. Entrepreneurs believe they were either built or bought.

    To that end, we need to agree to some definitions of terms as well as some fundamental conceptual principles.

    For instance, very *very* few entrepreneurs would argue that every single tool used to build/create a business were done from scratch (the toaster argument is the most ridiculous of them all). However, they *would* assert that there is (or was) a fair exchange of value in order to *obtain* those tools. Some of that value may be obtained by (but this is certainly by no means an exhaustive list), sweat equity, bartering, borrowing (with an interest), working and saving to invest.

    Obama, Warren, and those who share this viewpoint are convinced that people who built businesses were *given* something and used those materials to build a business. In order to espouse this argument, though, they have to first assert that the value exchanged for those tools did not equal the value they received. In other words, they received more than they exchanged, which means that whatever they built from those materials was, in part, unearned (e.g., a gift or stolen).

    You shift gears in your response to talk about deregulation, which falls outside the scope of this particular argument. The merits (or demerits) of regulation was not at issue, it was about the issue of entrepreneurs’ ability to claim ownership of the fruits of their labor, something that Obama, Warren, and others are all too willing to deny.

    It comes down to the “pay your fair share,” which you imply in your comment here. But I ask you – how much is fair? When the top 1% control 20% of the wealth but pay 40% of the taxes, how is that considered ‘not fair enough?’

    I’ve owned 5 businesses in my lifetime. 3 of them failed miserably. At one point I had created 16 jobs, and often went without paying myself for months during the lean years of the post-bubble burst of 2000. Fighting the IRS, the State(s), as well as trying to provide quality service to customers who hated having to fulfill their ends to the contracts, there was no one there to ‘help’ or build it on my behalf. I know a lot of other entrepreneurs have similar experiences as well.

    My point about neither Obama nor Warren being able to get where *they* are without cheating or relying on others still stands. It is because of this that they cannot fathom someone actually being successful without assistance, and it underscores the fundamental gap between them and those who have actually created something of value.

    Reply
  • Tyler Britten (@VMTyler) July 23, 2012 at 17:18

    Well let’s set Obama and Warrens’ backgrounds aside. It’s a valid point on their lack of private sector experience.

    I think the idea is that most of your tools are of your own creation (sweat equity, etc. as you stated) but some are borrowed/given/whatever from the collective society (which you are a member of and entitled to leverage) and your entitlement to those tools comes from the social pact you made to belong. Basically “I’m willing to give up some liberty and money in exchange for macro-scale benefits.” Without those roads to move your goods to market, the military to protect your goods and company from outside forces, and the community services to keep order within and provide educated workers and consumers, your production is much more difficult (and more expensive if you need to provide these services yourself).

    Can we agree that someone needs to provide these services at some macro scale?

    Reply
    • J Michel Metz July 23, 2012 at 17:31

      Yes, I agree that someone needs to provide these services, but let’s not put the cart before the horse. Those ‘services’ are already bought and paid for by the very people who pay their taxes to enable the services to begin with. To that end, they have already exchanged value for those services.

      The fact that services can/are provided does not mean that there is not an exchange of value for those services. It also is the ‘cart before the horse’ problem. Which do you think came first, the roads or the cars?

      You are equating those goods and services, generated at an economy of scale (much the same way an entrepreneur can sell to his customers at a specific price due to the economy of scale of production), as if he would be required to generate these goods and services with no economy of scale. Apples and oranges.

      Regarding the ‘social pact,’ again I bring up the notion of coercion. A pact is a mutual agreement made between two (or more) parties. As long as one party is not free to choose the extent to his participation it is not a pact! There is no mutual exchange of value, no negotiation, and there must be a consequence for not holding up one end of the bargain. So far, the only consequence that I’ve seen in this social ‘pact’ falls on the shoulders of the individual.

      Reply
  • Tyler Britten (@VMTyler) July 23, 2012 at 18:24

    Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that there isn’t an exchange of value- I am saying there is, that’s the point. An entrepreneur who leverages these common services is not a freeloader, he/she are using them exactly as intended. The freeloader is the entrepreneur who leverages those services in some way and refuses to complete their half of the exchange by paying appropriate taxes. What is appropriate is what we can agree at this point is up for debate.

    The “coercive” social pact is as old as our species is. You absolutely can ‘opt out’ by walking away from the tribe and out in the jungle/desert on your own. The modern equivalent would be moving to another municipality/state/country. Especially now with representative government of some kind, you’re getting your representation with your taxation, as the founders intended.

    The problem I have (as I believe the aforementioned duo were really driving at) is large corporate ‘producers’ having the ability to buy more ‘say’ in that representation, allowing them to further distort markets to not only increase their competitive advantage and profits, but also reduce their half of the exchange of the social pact. If large corporations like GE are taking heavy advantages of these services to profit handsomely but are allow to skirt their half of the agreement, how is that fair to smaller producers they compete with, as well as the consumers of both?

    Reply
  • Volin October 4, 2012 at 12:30

    Well done sir

    Reply

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