Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Built It Myself

The Republican Party has adopted a new meme for the 2012 campaign (based on an edited Obama quote) the “I Built This Company Myself” theme that is cropping up everywhere. A couple of weeks ago, former NH GOP Chair, Fergus Cullen had an op-ed piece in the Union Leader, where he extolled the virtues of Marion Noronha, who immigrated to the US from India. Noronha’s story, as told by Cullen, is tailor made for a Frank Capra movie.

Mr. Noronha came to the US in 1977, with nothing but six dollars and a degree in engineering that he earned in India. He worked for free for a VT company that was working at Dartmouth College. In Hanover Noronha became a Christian, and met the woman he would marry. His next job was with a shoe manufacturer that used CAD (computer assisted design). He and other Christians he met in the Hanover area moved to Madbury to start a church at UNH.

Mr. Noronha fiddled with CAD in his spare time, designing new prototypes and products. He bought a milling machine and set up a shop in his basement. He sold his first part to GM, and by 1993, had opened his own business, Turbocam, and had 23 employees.

It’s a great story – an immigrant realizing the American dream. Cullen makes a point of telling President Obama that Noronha did this all by his lonesome, with no help from the evil gummint. Except that it isn’t true.

Noronha got an education in engineering in India, where he very likely went to a publicly funded university. He came to the US on a Visa, granted to him by the US government. Noronha became a Christian, in a country where the government grants him freedom of religion. He lived and worked in Hanover, a town with public roads, bridges, water, sewer, and plowing; the infrastructure paid for by the tax dollars of the residents of this civilized community. Noronha wasn’t exactly Pa Ingalls out on the prairie, cutting down trees, clearing his own pasture, and building a barn. The infrastructure Mr. Noronha needed was already in place. For some reason, the GOP deems it necessary to turn this into a story of rugged individualism.

A visit to the US Government Small Business Administration’s site shows that Turbocam is one of the SBA 100 – companies that have hired at least 100 employees after receiving SBA assistance. From the website:

“Turbocam grew from a modest beginning in Dover, NH. The company has used SBA-guaranteed loans on seven occasions to provide more than $5 million dollars to help support its growth between 1992 and 2009. During this time the number of employees grew from 18 in 1992 to over 250 in 2009.”

Oh, dear. Guaranteed loans from a government program? That sure sounds like government assistance to me.

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney ran an ad featuring a NH businessman, Jack Gilchrist. Gilchrist is the owner of Gilchrist Metal Fabricating Company in Hudson. The ad features the highly edited Obama quote being spread by the GOP, and it features Jack Gilchrist talking about the company built by his father. He’s portrayed as the rugged individualist who did this all on his own. Another Pa Ingalls.

A little research provides some conflicting information. The company benefitted from $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds to set up a second plant and purchase equipment. Bond buyers don’t pay federal taxes on the interest, so the interest rate is lower than a bank loan’s interest would be. Last year, Gilchrist got two US Navy sub-contracts. In 2008, they had a US Coast Guard sub-contract. In the late 1980’s, Gilchrist had a US Small Business Administration loan for around $500,000. Gilchrist has also received matching funds from the New England Trade Adjustment Assistance Center, which is federally funded. And again, Hudson has public water, sewer, roads, bridges, schools, libraries, and parks - all the amenities of a civilized community, all paid for by the residents.

These stories illustrate a couple of things. First and foremost, these are the stories of men who have worked hard to make their businesses succeed. They are both SMART businessmen, who took advantage of programs that were available to them to help their businesses grow and flourish. That those are government-funded programs doesn’t diminish their success in any way. That’s what those programs are there for: to help businesses. succeed. Isn’t that a good thing? I’m at a loss as to why the Republican Party is at such pains to disconnect from the same government they’re all desperate to be part of. This bizarre myth of “rugged individualism” is going to continue to bite them, because no one who is a success got there without having some help and support along the way.

This was something that Mitt Romney did understand at one time. At the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in 2002 he said:

“You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power. For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them.”

Every one of us benefits from being part of a community, a community that has infrastructure in place to help us succeed. Schools, libraries, parks, recreation, roads, and bridges are all things we rely on, and we take for granted. If we didn’t have these things, we’d be a very different nation. Republicans bleat about US exceptionalism, while denying everything that has contributed to making the US an exceptional nation.

What this should be telling you the voter is pretty simple: they think you’re stupid. They think they can manipulate you by creating dishonest scenarios, and chanting slogans.

Anyone who tells you how bad government is, while simultaneously trying to become part of it, is someone not worthy of your vote.

This was published as an op-ed in the August 17, 2012 edition of the Conway Daily Sun.
© sbruce 2012

This is an expanded version of a piece that was published at Blue Hampshire, the Daily Kos, and of course here.


Nikkiru said...

Even Ayn Rand was a collectivist welfare queen in the end.

Anonymous said...

What is astounding, is that the GOP is denying that without a middle class foundation in ANY nation, there IS NO nation. Middle class is the essence of civilization because with it's municipal councils, town selectman and macro policy structures, it allows development such as described in your article. This in turn, along with citizen/tax payer based grants, allows success of individuals and their business' which in turn swings back to assist the middle, the lower and the higher echelons of society. Other than sheer greed, I can't comprehend what Ryan/Romney and the fanatical right are planning or thinking. But it's chilling and we should all be frightened.