HERE'S HOPING LES SCHWAB WAS WRONG
May 23, 2007
Trying to get a one-on-one meeting with Les Schwab, the tire king, was like trying to schedule a meeting with the President. It was not an easy meeting to get. Les didn’t schedule a lot of meetings with political types and was never known as a major donor to political candidates. So when the man agreed to meet with me, I didn’t hesitate to drive the three hours it took to get from Portland to the Central Oregon high desert where Les Schwab lived.
When I was ushered into his Prineville, Oregon office, I remember feeling privileged to actually meet the guy that I had seen on television so many times, a man who had built a chain of tire stores that ran circles (no pun intended) around some of the biggest names in tires. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that Les Schwab completely dominated the tire market in the Pacific Northwest. He knew how to sell tires and treat customers right.
Les Schwab’s Prineville office was hardly memorable. He seemed to have that Sam Walton flair for not needing to impress anyone with the fact that he had made it. After chatting for a few minutes, Les suggested that we hop in his “rig” and take a tour of some of his local facilities, beginning with the biggest tire warehouse imaginable.
Between tour stops, Les and I talked politics. He was for the most part a staunch conservative and we agreed on most issues. We had a pleasant visit, which lasted for a couple of hours, but in the end it was not a financially profitable trip.
Eventually, Les wrote me a check for $500, which for a man of his stature and ability, was a mere pittance. But unlike some rich guys, who will write you a thousand dollar check and act like they are Donald Trump, Les told me right up front why he wasn’t giving more. Here is what he said, as best I remember his words: “Bill, you’re a young man and I admire you for having the energy to keep up the fight, but I think it’s too late to save this country. We are going to have to bottom out and start over before we can set things right again.”
Based on the context of my conversation with Les leading up to that statement, Les meant that in his opinion it was too late to save this country because the socialist mindset, the entitlement mentality, was far too entrenched in the American people to reverse the trend.
I remember walking away from our visit liking the man, but feeling a bit depressed.
Time will tell whether Les Schwab was right to have such a gloomy outlook on politics. I have seen nothing in the decade that has passed since our meeting to prove him wrong. But this I know for sure: If those of us, who believe in liberty and free enterprise and private property rights, give up, then indeed the battle is lost. The prophesy becomes self-fulfilling. We lose by default. We lose because the other side called a war, and our side never showed up.
Maybe Les Schwab was wiser than I, or maybe he was just getting tired, again no pun intended. After all, Mr. Schwab was well up in years by the time I met him. But if I have my choice between sitting back and watching my country fall apart or fighting the mindset that is eating it up like a cancer, I would rather go down swinging.
If we continue down the road toward tried and failed socialism, a road we are definitely on, we will indeed bottom out. Les was right about that. But it will be ugly. Our children and grandchildren will suffer times of great shortage of the basic needs of life and even times of abject poverty. What comes out of that darkness is by no means certain. It might be a rebirth of American liberty. But it is just as likely that what comes next will be some form of totalitarianism.
So, I hope Les Schwab was wrong about it being too late. And in my opinion, I owe it to my kids to make sure he was.
© 2007 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
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Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that Les Schwab completely dominated the tire market in the Pacific Northwest. He knew how to sell tires and treat customers right.