To see Fort Wayne-based CNC Industries' response to the president's "you didn't build that" comment, go on line to tinyurl.com/i-built-this.
He had the idea, selected and renovated the location, did the research, provided the funding and accepted the risk – all of which makes Woodie Klepfer the undisputed brains behind Covington Coneys. But with the exception of three part-time employees he's also the brawn, spending up to 70 hours a week in the claustrophobic drive-through kiosk at 5920 Covington Road.
Maybe that's why Klepfer was especially amused by President Obama's pronouncement in Virginia earlier this month that “If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made it happen.”
“This just went along with other things the president has said that made me chuckle. He's never been a businessman; he's been appointed or elected (to jobs) all his life,” said Klepfer, 64, who understands Obama's point about the necessity of community and teamwork but also knows what the president apparently does not, or refuses to acknowledge:
What is today a thriving business might still be an empty former coffee hut if not for the vision, resourcefulness and daring of one man.
“I was looking to get into the food-service business for two years and noticed that the southwest side didn't have a full-service coney shop. I knew I could be successful if I was unique,” said Klepfer, who previously worked in broadcasting and marketing. When the former Higher Grounds Express spot became available he bought and spent about $18,000 converting it into a business that is still going strong two years later – a tribute to all those hours of steamed buns and recipes made from scratch, including a sauce identical to the formula so fondly remember by customers of the old Dawson's drive-in on South Anthony Boulevard.
Unless you happen to be a president who apparently believes that success is achieved collectively, not individually.
The president's apologists insist he didn't really mean to say that, of course, and he did in fact give a passing nod to individual initiative. And who would argue with Obama's assertion that personal or business success would be difficult if not impossible without good teachers, roads, fire protection and other services most often provided by the government?
Not Klepfer, certainly, even though “all government ever did for (my business) was to collect fees.”
But the claim that Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney and others have taken the president's words out of context is belied by Obama himself, in both word and deed.
In that same Virginia speech, the president seemed contemptuous of those who actually believe they are somehow responsible for their own success: “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 work harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something – there are a whole lot of hardworking people out there.”
True, but irrelevant. The fact that some smart, hardworking people do not succeed should not be used to discredit and even vilify those who do.
Obama perhaps unwittingly exposed his true agenda when he told the crowd that “There are a lot of successful Americans who agree with me – because they want to give something back.” As if Klepfer and other owners aren't already paying taxes or can't legitimately “give back” in ways that don't involve sending even more of their money to Washington, D.C.
But if people aren't responsible for their own success, they can't really claim ownership of the wealth it creates. And so it was appropriate that a record 8.75 million Americans are receiving federal disability payments this month – or about one recipient for every 16 workers. When the president took office there were 19 workers for every person claiming disability and, as recently as 1987, 41 people were working for every disability recipient.
Jobs are scarce, but are there really that many more Americans unable to work today? Or have self-serving politicians succeeded in promoting dependency by undermining productivity -- "spreading the wealth around," as the president once put it? When the Obama administration is working with the government of Mexico to promote the use of food stamps, you have to wonder.
Not to worry, say the people running the food stamp program: “Each $5 in benefits generates almost twice that amount in economic activity.” What they do not say is that the government can be generous only by first taking money from people like Klepfer, further limiting his ability to hire more people, expand his business or pay more of the the very taxes that provide teachers, roads and welfare in the first place.
Only a fool would relish such a future. But cheer up: If the bureaucrats are right, the economy should be positively booming when all of us are on food stamps.