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Forum Post: The Late Senator George McGovern on Owning a Business

Posted 5 years ago on Oct. 27, 2012, 3:39 p.m. EST by penguento (362)
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Calvin Coolidge was too simplistic when he observed that "the business of America is business." But like most sweeping political statements, even Coolidge's contains some truth -- enough, as I've learned, to make me wish I had known more firsthand about the concerns and problems of American businesspeople while I was a U.S. senator and later a presidential nominee. That knowledge would have made me a better legislator and a more worthy aspirant to the White House.

In 1988 I yielded to a longtime desire to own an inn with conference facilities, where I could provide good food, comfortable rooms, and lively public discussion sessions. A friend of mine, who had a lifetime of hotel- and restaurant-management experience, described the Stratford Inn, in Connecticut, near the respected Shakespeare Theater, as the ideal place for such an undertaking. He agreed to manage it for me if I'd put up the capital.

Without properly analyzing the difficulties of such an endeavor, I plunged into the hotel industry with a virtually impossible leasehold agreement, just as the recession hit New England with unusual force. Given the nature of the lease and the severity of the recession, I doubt in hindsight that either Hilton or Marriott could have made this venture profitable. I certainly couldn't.

After two and a half years that mixed pleasure and satisfaction with the loss of all my earnings from nearly a decade of post-Senate lecture tours, I gave up on the Stratford Inn. But not before learning some painful and valuable lessons.

I learned first of all that over the past 20 years America has become the most litigious society in the world. There was a time not so long ago when a lawsuit was considered a rare and extreme measure, to be resorted to only under the most critical circumstances. But today Americans sue one another at the drop of a hat -- almost on the spur of the moment.

As the owner of the Stratford Inn, I was on the receiving end of a couple of lawsuits that fit that description. In one case, a man left our lounge late one night and headed for his car, which was parked in our parking lot. He got into a fight along the way, and later sued the hotel for not providing more security in the parking area. We did have a security guard on duty, but I doubt that many hotels can afford the kind of extensive security arrangements that could guarantee there will never be an altercation among patrons once they leave the comfort of life in the tavern.

On another occasion, a person leaving our restaurant and lounge lost his footing and fell, allegedly suffering a costly injury. He promptly sued us for damages. Both of the suits were subsequently dismissed, but not without a first-rate legal defense that did not come cheaply.

I am a former history professor, not a lawyer. But it does seem to me that not every accident or fall or misfortune is the fault of the business at which it occurs. Yet lawsuits prompted by such events have spawned a multibillion-dollar industry -- one that drives up the costs of doing business and rendering medical care. Not to mention how it wars against a congenial and humane way of life. We begin to see one another not as compatriots, neighbors, and fellow citizens but as potential plaintiffs and defendants. If we don't stop suing one another for every possible misfortune or alleged negligence, we are going to undermine both the health of our economy and the quality of our society.

The second lesson I learned by owning the Stratford Inn is that legislators and government regulators must more carefully consider the economic and management burdens we have been imposing on U.S. business. As an innkeeper, I wanted excellent safeguards against a fire. But I was startled to be told that our two-story structure, which had large sliding doors opening from every guest room to all-concrete decks, required us to meet fire regulations more appropriate to the Waldorf-Astoria. A costly automatic sprinkler system and new exit doors were items that helped sink the Stratford Inn -- items I was convinced added little to the safety of our guests and employees. And a critical promotional campaign never got off the ground, partly because my manager was forced to concentrate for days at a time on needlessly complicated tax forms for both the IRS and the state of Connecticut.

I'm for protecting the health and well-being of both workers and consumers. I'm for a clean environment and economic justice. But I'm convinced we can pursue those worthy goals and still cut down vastly on the incredible paperwork, the complicated tax forms, the number of minute regulations, and the seemingly endless reporting requirements that afflict American business. Many businesses, especially small independents such as the Stratford Inn, simply can't pass such costs on to their customers and remain competitive or profitable.

I'm not expert enough after only two and a half years as a business owner to know the solutions to all those concerns. I do know that if I were back in the U.S. Senate or in the White House, I would ask a lot of questions before I voted for any more burdens on the thousands of struggling businesses across the nation.

For example, I would ask whether specific legislation exacts a managerial price exceeding any overall benefit it might produce. What are the real economic and social gains of the legislation when compared with the costs and competitive handicaps it imposes on businesspeople?

I'm lucky. I can recover eventually from the loss of the Stratford Inn because I'm still able to generate income from lectures and other services. But what about the 60 people who worked for me in Stratford? While running my struggling hotel, I never once missed a payroll. What happens to the people who counted on that, and to their families and community, when an owner goes under? Those questions worry me, and they ought to worry all of us who love this country as a land of promise and opportunity.



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[-] 3 points by GirlFriday (17435) 5 years ago

I agree with this. Everything is a liability no matter what you do. However, we have seen enough damage from both sides of the spectrum that we need to make sure that relief can be granted if there is a legit issue. The devil is in the details.

When an important piece of legislation is on the table, the US Chamber of Commerce (and others) spends x amount of money on spin and they alter the conversations. They don't really have an interest in the small-medium business' and we saw this back with the big ol' financial reform. When ALEC is writing legislation, they are representing their own interests. Bank on it.

I cannot tell you how many times that I have engaged in conversations where someone who owns a small-medium business' is arguing that I have a problem with all corporations. No, I have a problem with corporatists.Local business' rock. I recognize the difference, in fact, it should be understood. I do not understand why small-med business' defend legislation that is like slicing their own throats. Kinda like that ol' financial reform thang.

So, cut that shit out. Really. Turn off the tv and screw the "news analysts" and political commentators. They have sponsers that respresent their own interests. We are often fighting an argument that someone else has devised for busy work.

If that means that we take every little piece of legislation and comb through the shit to see how it's full impact then let's do it.

This message was brought to you by the Love, Peace and Chicken Grease party.

[-] 1 points by BetsyRoss (-744) 5 years ago

I WANT every piece of legislation combed through and checked BEFORE it's voted on and becomes law. Nancy Pelosi said they had to PASS the bill so the American people could find out what was IN the bill. And said Rep. John Conyers said “I love these members, they get up and say, ‘Read the bill,’” “What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”

THAT is why we're in the mess we're in.

[-] 2 points by GirlFriday (17435) 5 years ago

First, I meant by us. Don't distort my shit for your own personal bitch.

Second, Coburn had the time but refused to read it........even though there were many of us on line combing through it and tearing it apart consistently. Lot's of us read it.

[-] 3 points by BetsyRoss (-744) 5 years ago

I realize he had the time, he just didn't do it. How many of the rest of them did? 1400 pages in government speak isn't an easy task for anyone. The American people need to be able to read, understand, and agree with ALL of the legislation that impacts them directly because our legislature certainly isn't doing it on our behalf.

[-] 3 points by GirlFriday (17435) 5 years ago

I agree with that.

[-] 1 points by penguento (362) 5 years ago

It is, unfortunately, often the case that these large, complex bills are written entirely by committees of staff members, so that members of Congress quite often aren't really aware of details of legislation they are voting on. The problem is compounded by the length of these laws -- Dodd Frank was a thousand pages -- and by the fact that a bill often has language changing other laws. You'll read a clause that says something like "in 22 U.S.C. section 9056 (a) (3) (B)(ii) the word "may" is changed to "must."

That could be a very significant change to that other law, but you'd never never figure it out unless you researched the other law as well. And some of these things contain hundreds or thousands of these sorts of changes. I'd be willing to bet that there isn't a single person anywhere in the world that fully understands the impact of the Patriot Act. I've read it, and I'm a lawyer by training, and I have a lot of experience reading complex laws and I certainly don't.

Lots of states have laws that try to prevent this sort or thing by requiring bills to be about a single, defined topic, and limiting some of the other silliness, but the US Congress is terribly resistant to suggestions of that sort. They like the obfuscation and the midnight insertion of key language when no one's looking. It serves their purposes.

[-] 2 points by GirlFriday (17435) 5 years ago

I understand how this "in 22 U.S.C. section 9056 (a) (3) (B)(ii) the word "may" is changed to "must." works. I understand that they will intentionally throw in something obscure-for lobbyists. I understand that, in many instances, full comprehension of the impact on many of the bills is not going to be known until it is right up on you.

The other night, I watched a political commentator. I don't usually do this because it makes me want to stab people in their eyes with my pen. One of his guests made a comment about how it was too hard for the American people to understand a specific concept. This is a repeated mantra that over time people buy into and maintains this "helpless society".

I am not a lawyer. I am poli sci. I am painfully aware of my limitations. I have been on forums where we have taken apart bills. None of us were lawyers except for the occasional pop in. We had two choices. We could buy into the concept that we were a helpless society that needed to have someone representing their own interests 'spwain it to us and become willing victims to propaganda. We could combat the ZOMG spin and hash it out the best we could. Struggle? Yes. Box of razorblades in the bathroom? Yes. Spend 15 hours reading documents? Yes. Perfection? No.

[-] 3 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

The other night, I watched a political commentator. I don't usually do this because it makes me want to stab people in their eyes with my pen.

aAHAhahahahaheeheeheeeehehehehooo..............ain't it the truth. There was an idiot on face the nation today saying that the independents were strongly motivated to vote for mittens - this apparent fact seems to have slipped by his notice = that many have left the republican party and registered as independents.

[-] 2 points by GirlFriday (17435) 5 years ago

That is why I cannot do this. I can scream at the tv and they can't hear me. It is futile.

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

You need a Japanese stress room - a place where you can go and hit and punch and kick inanimate objects and yell and scream all you want - UM - HEY - I need a place like that. {:-])

[-] 2 points by GirlFriday (17435) 5 years ago

lol I just go out of my way not to even go there.

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Nah don't do that - just let it out - in a positive fashion = protest and activism/advocating and/or beating an inanimate object while imagining it is ayn smarmy or mittens or Inhoffe or boehner or bitch mcconnel or something. Don't let it build up.

[-] 1 points by penguento (362) 5 years ago

Agreed. Regardless of your political affiliation, you're to be commended for taking the time to do that. The more it can be done , the more transparent the process, and that's always good. The practical issue is that they intentionally write those enormous bills to discourage that very thing; and unless you've some dedicated people with a lot of time, it's very difficult to analyze even one major bill, let alone the many that come out each year.

[-] 1 points by BetsyRoss (-744) 5 years ago

You can't hide pork and payback with simple.

[-] 1 points by penguento (362) 5 years ago

Quite so.

[-] -1 points by Futurevision1 (-75) 5 years ago

Why did you call her a "bitch"?

[-] 1 points by GirlFriday (17435) 5 years ago

I didn't.

[-] 1 points by Futurevision1 (-75) 5 years ago

Ah. I have since reread the post and I see my mistake. My apologies.