Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Obama takes himself out of context

"You didn't build that."

The phrase is still the talk of the town. Romney and the RNC are not letting up on it, at all. Obama, his campaign, and his media fanboys are clawing back, insisting that the words are being taken out of context and the President's meaning is being misconstrued. Witness the latest online ad from the Obama Campaign:

Everything Obama says in the above ad (thus making it impossible to take out of context):
Those ads taking my words about small business out of context; they're flat out wrong. Of course Americans build their own business. Everyday hard-working people sacrifice to meet a payroll, create jobs, and make our economy run. 
And what I said was that we need to stand behind them as America always has. By investing in education, training, roads and bridges, research and technology. I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message because I believe we're all in this together.
As has been demonstrated too many times to count, when the President said "you didn't build that" in Roanoke, he wasn't telling business owners that they didn't build their business. But what was he telling them? According to this new bit, Obama never suggested Americans don't build their own businesses because he believes the opposite. And--again, according to this new bit--what Obama was saying is that we need to stand behind these people, these "business builders," because they make the economy run.

Reality check. The President's words in context from the Roanoke event:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. 
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.
Critics have been concentrating on the second paragraph, by and large, and the money quote: "you didn't build that." But let's set the context by looking closely at the first paragraph. The President is very clear: "if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own." He even says it twice. That's a far cry from believing that "Americans build their own businesses." Because what we are talking about here is drive and initiative, not bodies on the field, If I built a successful construction business from scratch, of course people helped me along the way, from employees to customers to banks, and so on. But I might still say "I built my business on my own," and pretty much anyone would know exactly what I meant: I took the chances, the risk. I "went for it." At the end of the day, it was all on me, no one else.

That's the entrepreneurial spirit, something the President does not seem to understand in the least. Look at the rest of the first paragraph: "there are a lot of smart people out there...there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there." True. But they don't all put those smarts and hard work to the same sorts of use. And that's fine. People get to choose; everyone need not desire to run their own business. In my construction business--if I was so successful--I probably looked for hard-working people. And I used that hard work to be successful, no doubt. But I was still the one taking the risks. I paid people for their hard work. My choices, my initiative, my risk-taking is what made that possible.

Thus, the President--in his Roanoke remarks--is not trumpeting the initiative of the small businessman, at all. The first paragraph sets the context: successful people are nothing special (really, Obama is almost saying they were just lucky). Their success is a dependent kind of success; they needed help. Contrary to what's in the new ad from the President, there's nothing in these remarks about the sacrifice of these business builders.

And let's remember, the whole spiel is a set up for demanding more taxes from the "rich," from the successful. Obama--in the new bit--says we should "stand behind" these people. But in his original remarks, he was telling these people that they needed to pony up and "give something back." Too vastly different things.

Obama's new ad is--in short--disingenuous. He's actually taking his own words even more out of context than has Romney, the RNC, or his critics in the media.

Really, the remarks from Roanoke are damning all by themselves. There's no need to play games with them by highlighting the money quote, at all. And it appears the RNC has figured this out, too:

No commentary necessary. Just let Obama's own words--in context--do the work.

Cheers, all.


  1. You didn't make that happen. Somebody else took the risk for you. Somebody else skipped a payday in order to make payroll for you. Somebody else took out a second mortgage in order to upgrade the machinery. Sure, you may have debts up your ass, and maybe you've created twenty jobs for folks that weren't there before you started your business and maybe taught one of them enough so that he decides to go out on his own and do the same thing, but you didn't build that. Don't you know it takes a village to build a company?

  2. How do you really feel about this, Haggis? ;)

  3. This one is even better, imo

  4. On a more general note, success is a function of smarts (not necessarily in an academic sense), hard work and the ability to capitalize on luck (whether good or bad). As one of my favorite quotes from Luis Pasteur says, "Chance favors the prepared mind". Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" gives a pretty good examination of success in different areas. Although he somewhat downplays the individual traits of people he examines in order to dig into the "enviromental" stuff, but the ability to capitalize on things that on at first glance are not always positives comes strongly through in every case. So, yeah, there are a lot of smart and hardworking people out there who are not successful, but that usually means that they either decided conciously or unconciously to take the necessary risks, or that they failed to exploit the good fortunes in their lives or that they weren't able to do enough to prevent the bad things from ruining their chances. Neither has anything to do with what the gov can or can't do for people.

  5. This has to be the most cantankerous thing said in the campaign so far. Neal Boortz scrutinizes these infamous four words here: