So much of politics today involves avoiding the dreaded political gaffe rather than espousing policy. And, oh boy, does Obama appear to have committed a big one.
While giving a speech at a campaign event in Roanoke, Va., the president 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 words in bold have been seized upon by the Romney campaign to imply that Obama believes small business owners owe all their success to government spending:
Romney’s offensive maneuvering has resonated strongly with fiscal conservatives and small business owners. (This lumberyard owner has a pretty clear opinion of the president’s speech.) And the ensuing Internet memes were swift and, well, rather funny.
However, the mainstream media immediately leapt to Obama’s defense, claiming he’s been taken out of context (you gotta wonder where these people were when the Obama team was unfairly browbeating Romney for his “I like being able to fire people” quote). New York magazine says Romney is a liar. And, among other outlets, the Associated Press and Washington Post have also defended Obama’s words. They say we just need to listen to the full context of the speech.
Well, here it is:
Here’s the thing: Even when I listen to the speech in its entirety, it still sounds to me as if the president is arguing that entrepreneurs owe their success to government spending rather than hard work and ingenuity. The president can backpedal, explain away his words and rely on a sympathetic media all he wants, but–whether he misspoke, communicated poorly or actually meant it–he said what he said. And his words may go down as the biggest gaffe of the 2012 presidential campaign.
The reason “you didn’t build that” has so incensed Obama’s opponents, whether he was taken out of context or not, is that we are a divided nation. There are those who believe that the government has not done enough to tax the rich, regulate Wall Street or ultimately to provide for its citizens, while others believe the government has stifled economic growth with taxes, red tape and other oversteps.
Principally, these are two entirely different world views. One favors freedom of the individual and the other believes in the benefits of a collectivist society. World views also tend to divide Americans on key sportsmen’s issues such as gun control and animal rights. For example, collectivists often put exclusive faith in the police to protect them from harm. They don’t even trust themselves with firearms let alone you. Yet advocates for individual rights believe that personal safety is ultimately up to them, and for many people the responsibility includes firearm ownership. The collectivists call this paranoia; the individualists calls it emergency preparedness. And while most collectivists would starve if they woke up tomorrow and all the Whole Foods were closed, perhaps a few would survive thanks to the generosity of individualists, who’d have plenty of fried catfish and grilled venison to go around.
Okay, that was a joke. But the point is a large percentage of Americans believe in the freedom of the individual and, rightly or wrongly, they perceive that Obama is against such liberties. They work hard. They’re proud of their accomplishments. And they don’t want to be told “you didn’t build that.”