Politically Speaking: Do Small Business Owners Have a Voice?

The political parties have completed their prime-time convention pageantry, and are buckling down for the 60 day dash to the election. Both profess to be focused on the”little guy,” the middle class backbone of America. One party says that you succeed on your own. The other says that you succeed because you live in a system that makes success possible.

My friend Jim Blasingame’s Small Business Advocate newsletter conducts a poll every week. Not surprisingly his readers, owners of small businesses, tend to lean strongly to the Republican side of politics. Are the Republicans really the political party of business?

Those who watched the Republican convention were treated to a parade of small business owners, and of politicians who extolled their small business roots. Does anyone really think they can finance a Presidential campaign on the contributions of small business owners? Of course not. As soon as the lights were turned off in Tampa they rushed to ask the lobbyists of giant corporations for contributions. Small business doesn’t have the excess cash to throw around.

At home, we are watching “The Killing” on Netflix. The reformer politician is running behind. He needs money, and his legion of followers can’t come up with enough. The campaign manager suggests a visit to the local tech billionaire, to which the reformer exclaims ” I won’t take money from someone whose patron saint is Ayn Rand.”

Of course he goes, and gets a big check. At least the show was fair to Ayn’s memory. He accepts the check with the excuse that he is only doing it for the good of the people. The entrepreneur responds that he is doing it for his own reasons, and could care less why the reformer is accepting it. If Ms. Rand’s consciousness exists somewhere (she would not appreciate being portrayed in a happy afterlife), I hope she was pleased.

As the election approaches, our peer board meetings and many of my coaching sessions veer off into a discussion of politics. The ridiculous refund reporting requirements of the Affordable Healthcare Act seem to have gotten owners stirred up. On the heels of that came the notices from our accountants regarding the new taxes effective in January. (Somehow the press seems to miss that when the President says he hasn’t raised any money on the backs of the middle class.)

The conversations usually end the same way. One of us says “That’s all fine to talk about, but we need to focus on running our businesses.” Is that correct? Are small business owners really just ineffective pawns in a broken system?

In the 1970’s the drug epidemic in New York City was out of control. I remember reading a magazine story about a woman whose sister visited from Connecticut. They took their two young daughters to the park, where the NYC mom spent every moment tracking the kids’ moves. No going behind the bush, some addict might be there. No picking things up, it might be a diseased hypodermic needle.

The suburban sister asked why they even came to the park, since it was so dangerous and stressful. The mom answered: “Because if we stop coming, they win.”

The story isn’t just about maternal courage. The fact is they did eventually clean up the parks, at least in many areas. By refusing to give up, eventually they won.

A technology entrepreneur (not a billionaire yet) said to me the other day “Why should I bother to vote for President? In Texas, it is a waste of time. We live in the reddest of red states, and there is zero chance that anything I do can change that.”

I reminded him that Texas was once the bluest of blue states. As described in Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point, things changed little by little until suddenly they changed all at once.

Small business owners aren’t powerless. We may not be able to pour millions into political war chests. We can talk to our employees, but most will still vote as they see fit. What we can do is not give up. Don’t stop talking. Don’t stop pointing to things you see that are unfair or corrupt.

Entrepreneurs own businesses because they refused to accept the way things were. A feeling of helplessness is absolutely the worst thing that can happen to small business in America. The odds of engendering change are long, but every day that you unlock the doors of your business you have already beaten the odds.

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