POLITICAL observations & opinions

* “you didn’t build that” … what did Obama really say … and what Republicans are trying to make of it

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 21, 2012

to learn more about Lew Weinstein and his novels,

go to … http://lewweinsteinauthorblog.com/


My friend David and I disagree on many political issues, but so far we have conducted our dialogue with respect. Here are the latest rounds following President Obama’s statement which included the words “you didn’t build that” which inflamed Republicans and has led to new Romney campaign ads.


Here’s what President Obama said …

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.”

Here’s how NBC News read Obama’s remarks …

… the Romney campaign is up with a new 30-second TV ad trying to capitalize on Obama’s “you didn’t build that remark” from last week.

The ad begins with the president saying: “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

But as has been pointed out by others, that quote is selectively edited.

Here’s what Obama actually said, in the context of higher tax rates for the wealthy: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Indeed, when you read those words, the “you didn’t build that” referred to roads and bridges, not someone building their own business.  

here’s how my friend David read Obama’s remarks … 

Mr. Obama has insulted everyone in the United States who have done something similar when he said “you did not build that. Someone else made that happen.”

Rarely do politicians so clearly reveal their core beliefs. The President who says he want to transform the country may be succeeding—the government becomes the engine that drives the economy and with that subordinating to government the individual entrepreneur and risk takers that historiclly underlies the prosperity in the United States.

The question is whether this is country most Americans want to build. This is not about right or left it is about what is best for America and Obama has shown his true colors.

The attacks by the Obama team on Romney are almost laughable…it clearly points out that they are afraid to focus on the real issues…In the end it will be what kind of country we all want. Socialist or the Democartic Republic our fore fathers fought and died for…For me and I hope for a majority of voters it will be to save our Republic from these extremists who want to fundamentaly change our lives..There are other important issues such as our role in the World..I could go on, but for me the debate is over…we will see what happens on election day!

… taking the president at his word – that he meant not that government built American businesses but instead that government built and/or fostered the roads, Internet, and public safety necessary for business to flourish – is still ripe for attack…

It’s not the government’s money It was business people who gave the government money so we could have roads and buildings and infrastructure.

That is what is fundamentally deficient in this administration…. He completely and fundamentally misunderstands what creates business, what creates a thriving economy.” Apparently so do most of his supporters….Very sad for our country…… I know the left will defend whatever Obama says even if it does not make any sense…..He should stick to his teleprompter….You can check it out these idiotic statements were made “off the cuff””

to which LEW responded …

DAVID … You apparently believe the “government” is an entity divorced from its citizens and business. We tax ourselves to provide for common needs that we cannot supply as individuals. You can argue about which needs should be met, but to say “Business people gave the government the money” reveals a fundamental misunderstanding and misstatement of what America is all about.

Romney, the Republicans and you have jumped on the Obama statement “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that” as if it was a personal attack on every entrepreneur and CEO. That is clearly not the case. What Obama clearly meant is “you didn’t build that ALONE.” And that cannot be denied except by ignoring the facts.

Government has subsidized business for centuries, and continues to do so in a wide variety of ways that some people just refuse to recognize. Think of the railroads, the interstate highway system, the internet, scientific research, education … the list is long. And, by and large, I believe it was and continues to be correct for our government to use our common resources to serve our common interests, in these cases, by providing a necessary foundation for business growth and success.

For the beneficiaries of largess for business to claim, as many do, that government use of common resources for other purposes is wrong, or socialism, or some other pejorative label, is not only dead wrong, it is incredibly selfish.

No one in our country has built a business by himself (or herself). Of course, individuals have taken major initiatives and supplied the brains and energy to build new businesses, but in every case this success has relied on the work and resources of others who came before, often channeled through our common government. Every entrepreneur starts with what others have done and provided, and builds from there. Not alone!

That’s what Obama clearly meant, and I think the Republicans who are arguing otherwise know that. They are trying to make a campaign issue out of nothing, misreading not only what Obama clearly meant, but also, reading the statement in its context, what he clearly said.

Why are they doing that?

In my judgment, Republicans are becoming increasingly desperate.

Mitt Romney is a very poor candidate. His experience is severely limited. His perspective even more so. He has almost zero political skills. He is hiding financial information in a way that makes him look shifty and sneaky. He is on a path to be demolished as a viable candidate between now and election day.

When the comparison between Obama’s substantial accomplishments and Romney’s weaknesses  becomes clear, Obama will be the winner.

So, without a strong candidate of their own, Republicans want to paint Obama as a socialist who doesn’t understand business. Further, they want the American people to believe that business profits and the wealth of the few are the only values Americans should support. Wrong on all counts!

We are a greater country that that.

  • We believe that the needs of all of us should be considered, that we should forge an economy where everybody has a chance to succeed,
  • where the wealthy should not be permitted to use that wealth solely to increase their share of the common pie at the expense of all the others who are part of our common weal.
  • We believe that there is a need for regulation of economic interests so that the pursuit of those interests does not ride roughshod over all other legitimate interests.
  • We believe that our government exists to further our common interests, not just the interests of a few.

Now, when you get to specifics, there is much to argue about. Which policies promote the common interests? Which programs are excessive and unfundable? How can we reduce the national debt and balance the national budget? How can we provide healthcare for all our citizens at a cost we can collectively afford? How should the tax burden which provides for our common interests be shared?

But Republicans are not entering those discussions. Having lost the 2008 election to a candidate many Republicans despise, the Republican goal, clearly expressed over and over again by Congressional leaders, has been to oppose anything Obama is for, even if it used to be a Republican idea, like the individual mandate in healthcare insurance.

There is no Republican focus on the common good. There is only vicious anti-Obama rhetoric, such as the distortion of his remarks about building a business alone that prompted this current discussion.


There will probably be more to this conversation. Stay tuned.



One Response to “* “you didn’t build that” … what did Obama really say … and what Republicans are trying to make of it”

  1. Chris said

    What a great discussion.

    Government in its current form is not for the people. It is for the lobbyist, corporations, and unions that give campaign contributions.

    Current business is not capitalism it is crony capitalism or fascism. Business competes to get government subsides and pay outs.

    The election of either of these candidates would change little from the current slide from greatness we are experiencing.

    U.S. is a declining society and it is taking much of the world with it.

    But hey we can always blame the other party because they are truly evil.

    As noted before – we sure are leaving a great place for are children and grand children huh?

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