Weeks ago, when President Barack Obama overstated the role of government in American entrepreneurship with his infamous “you didn’t build that” remark, Americans from border to border made it overwhelmingly clear that respect for the self-made man is still alive and well in the United States.
Some businesses put up signs of protest noting that they did indeed build the businesses they own by the sweat of their own brows and sacrifice. Meanwhile, pundits across the political spectrum and American citizens who have witnessed firsthand the difficulties involved in building a business from the ground up jumped to the defense of their entrepreneurial compatriots.
Criticism for his lack of entrepreneurial understanding is nothing new for the President. Obama is the Commander in Chief, the utmost of resume embellishments; but beyond that — Ivy League education, community organizer, lawyer, professor, Senator, author — nothing suggests the ground-up business experience that so many Americans revere.
The President’s primary opponent in the 2012 election, Mitt Romney, was given a golden opportunity to highlight his professional experience, including helping to found Bain Capital, with Obama’s remark. And he has. The challenger has become an outstandingly wealthy individual for his hard work and lucky breaks throughout the years after working as a management consultant, heading such companies as Bain Capital and later Bain and Co. before beginning his Senatorial and Gubernatorial careers.
But, despite his business experience, Romney’s story isn’t that of the typical American entrepreneur who struggles to make ends meet and must work tirelessly to be the wind and the sails of a start-up venture. Romney’s early life was not lacking in wealth, political advantage and nepotistic benefit due to the vast political and business affiliations of his father, George Romney, himself a decent example of American self-made success.
For American business builders who have scraped by on meager — or no — wages for the sole purpose of making an entrepreneurial dream come true, there is absolutely nothing of the current President’s success story that they can relate to their own struggles, and Romney’s curricula vitae likely offers little.
Fortunately, America is a Nation that has historically emboldened the idea that one does not have to be a “fortunate son” (to reference Credence Clearwater Revival) in order to achieve paramount success. It has been proven time and again that hard work, dedication and sacrifice are just as valuable as pedigree in building one’s own successful business. And this is the track that the vast majority of American small-business entrepreneurs follow to achievement or failure.
In the 2012 Presidential election, there is perhaps one candidate who understands the American everyman struggle to successful entrepreneurship better than Romney or Obama could ever hope to. He lacks an Ivy League education and has a history that could be indistinguishable from a majority of small-business owners tending shop in small towns and cities throughout the Nation.
Former Republican Governor of New Mexico and Libertarian Presidential nominee Gary Johnson was born into an upper-middle-class North Dakota family, his father a teacher and his mother an employee of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. His family later moved to New Mexico, where he was raised. He graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1975.
During his time in college, cash-strapped Johnson sought an opportunity to make some money in the summer of 1974. According to the New Mexico Business Journal, Johnson decided he would work as a handyman and began handing out flyers that read: “College student needs work. Will do carpentry, painting, cement, anything and everything.” The candidate said that he worked his first several jobs at a rate of just $3.50 per hour, which was actually higher than Federal minimum wage at the time.
In an interview with New Mexico Business Times, Johnson relays the moment he decided that his summer venture would parlay into lifelong self-employment:
Along came about the fifth job and this fellow wanted rocks spread out all over his whole yard. And I remember thinking it was going to take about 22 hours to do the job, so I said 80 bucks; he said fine. I showed up on Saturday thinking I was going to work all day Saturday and all day Sunday. I started at seven o’clock, and at 10:30 I was finished with the job. Then it was “Oh, my god, what am I going to do? This is 22 bucks an hour. He’s not going to pay me. What am I going to do?” And, hey, there’s only so much you can do with rocks. I’m done with the job, and he walks out, and my heart’s racing. And he says I see you’re done with the job and he handed me the check for 80 bucks. And I remember looking at the check and thinking, “This is the American way.” And at that point I knew I would never be employed by anyone, meaning I would always be self-employed.
Johnson turned his handyman operation into a modest business called Big J Enterprises after he graduated college. The modest start-up company went on expand rapidly into a multimillion-dollar business when, based on solid work ethic, the business was able to achieve multimillion-dollar expansion contracts from corporations like Intel.
Beyond good business ethics, Big J attributes much of its success to worker welfare and careful adherence to a strict operating model. In 1994, after being elected Governor of New Mexico, Johnson sold the company for $38 million, but not before ensuring that the employees holding the 1,000 jobs he had created were contractually protected from being replaced for no reason by the new owners.
Johnson went on to be a popular and notoriously thrifty Governor.
Perhaps Johnson has no chance in the Presidential election, but he is currently lobbying for the right to at least have a voice in the nationally televised Presidential debates. And, as much as Republicans and Democrats alike lament that third-party runs are damaging and distracting to the mainstream campaign, Johnson seems to have a history of doing exactly what a majority of Americans are screaming for on a daily basis: focusing on the economy of small business, rather than corporate cronyism and government control.
The Democratic- and Republican-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) mandates that candidates receive at least 15 percent favorability in order to participate in the debates. Unfortunately, the corporate-controlled media have circumvented any chance of an Obama, Romney, Johnson debate by simply leaving the Libertarian candidate off the polls.
The Libertarian Action Super Pac recently conducted two national polls of its own, asking 1,000 Americans: “Suppose in this year’s Presidential Election you had a choice of Libertarian Gary Johnson or Democrat Barack Obama. If the election were held today would you vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson or Democrat Barack Obama?”
Johnson received 19 percent favorability in the first poll and 24 percent in the most recent. It is unlikely, however, that CPD officials will accept the Libertarian group’s polling efforts.