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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Business Owners Risk Everything, Aren't Risk-Takers

The simplistic, lowest-common-denominator quality of much American political discourse has claimed another principle. Republicans and the entrepreneur / small business class have taken to referring to themselves as "risk-takers." That is literally true; they are taking risks. But the phrase is a mistake because it evokes undesirable negative images. A winning campaign avoids this.

To 80% of the American population "risk-taking" conjures the image of unshaven, ne'er-do-well men, reeking of liquor or cheap beer, going to the racetrack and throwing $100 on horse number 5 with the 20-1 odds of winning. Gambling is what it sounds like. The better phrase and actually more accurate: Business owners are "at risk." They risk everything if their business goes under. They risk loss of investment, loss of credit rating, loss of reputation and -- and this latter point often goes ignored -- loss of confidence. This is much different from being a risk-taker.

Although business owners take risks, that does not mean that they are reckless or negligent; often they are the opposite. But political rhetoric has a way of getting mangled in an age where every syllable gets a snide remark. Republicans, conservatives and the crowd resisting the Obama Administration's drive to bring us on an involuntary death march to serfdom would do well to learn to pick phrases evoking sympathy and compassion instead of other phrases evoking recklessness and the sense of deserving what one gets if one takes a foolish risk and loses the bet. Until then, this poor choice of phraseology will show why Republicans have a habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Eric Dixon is a New York corporate and investigative lawyer, political strategist and business consultant.

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