What is “Success”?

link to Obama’s press conference May 21 2012

The talking heads spent a lot of time talking about gaffes, splits, poll results, celebrations in one campaign and panic in another. They spent much less time talking about one of the most substantial statements made about the coming election for president.

This statement needs to be discussed because it describes two opposing views that just might reflect the opposing views of government in general, and perhaps of all of us in society. It goes to the fundamental question of what we believe “success” means.

  • What is “success” for a business?
  • What is “success” for a worker?
  • What is “success” for a president?
  • What is “success” for the government?

They are not the same thing, and success in one area does not imply success in another. We all know this when we think about this, but we spend not enough time thinking about this.

At his press conference May 21 2012:

   Q Yes, thank you, Mr. President. Yesterday, your friend and ally, Cory Booker said that an ad that you released, that your campaign released was nauseating. And it alleged that Romney at Bain Capital was “responsible for job losses at a Kansas City steel mill.” Is that your view that Romney is personally responsible for those job losses? Will comments from Booker and your former auto czar Steve Rattner that have criticized some of these advertisements call on you to pull back a little bit? And, generally, can you give us your sense — three part, Mr. President. Could you give us your sense of just what private equity’s role is in stemming job losses as they seek a return on investment for their investors? Thank you.

  THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think Cory Booker is an outstanding mayor. He is doing great work in Newark and obviously helping to turn that city around. And I think it’s important to recognize that this issue is not a “distraction.” This is part of the debate that we’re going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main Street, have a shot at success and if they’re working hard and they’re acting responsibly, that they’re able to live out the American Dream.

  Now, I think my view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profits. And that’s a healthy part of the free market. That’s part of the role of a lot of business people. That’s not unique to private equity. And as I think my representatives have said repeatedly, and I will say today, I think there are folks who do good work in that area. And there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs or new industries, but understand that their priority is to maximize profits. And that’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers.

   And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be President is his business expertise. He is not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He is saying, I’m a business guy and I know how to fix it, and this is his business.

   And when you’re President, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who got laid off and how are we paying for their retraining. Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so that they can attract new businesses. Your job as President is to think about how do we set up a equitable tax system so that everybody is paying their fair share that allows us then to invest in science and technology and infrastructure, all of which are going to help us grow.

   And so, if your main argument for how to grow the economy is I knew how to make a lot of money for investors, then you’re missing what this job is about. It doesn’t mean you weren’t good at private equity, but that’s not what my job is as President. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure that the country is growing not just now, but 10 years from now and 20 years from now.

  So to repeat, this is not a distraction. This is what this campaign is going to be about — is what is a strategy for us to move this country forward in a way where everybody can succeed? And that means I’ve got to think about those workers in that video just as much as I’m thinking about folks who have been much more successful.

  Q Just for — is Romney personally responsible for those 750 job losses?

  THE PRESIDENT: What I would say is that Mr. Romney is responsible for the proposals he is putting forward for how he says he is going to fix the economy. And if the main basis for him suggesting he can do a better job is his track record as the head of a private equity firm, then both the upsides and the downsides are worth examining.

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