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The “You Didn’t Build That” controversy

July 26, 2012

Here’s a good article answering back this flood of attacks on Obama for his supposed “you didn’t build that” statement:
The Meaning of “That”, PAUL WALDMAN

Here again is his actual statement; pertinent points highlighted:

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.

The point is, is that 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.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.

I didn’t jump on this so quickly, because it seemed to be connected to an argument for more taxes. (or I guess eliminating tax breaks). So I can understand the conservatives and libertarians saying “oh, since everyone helped us build it, then you want to take money from us and share it with all these others”.

Still, they have to add their own twisting of the words out of context, and hence we see a focus purely on “You didn’t build that [business]…”…”…government…created…” (It’s true that the Internet did originally start with a govt. WAN — “Mil-net”)
What’s completely ignored is the “others helped you” part. Of course, much of conservative rhetoric precisely has been virtually attributing the prosperous as just smarter and more hard working than others; the supposed “lazy”. They speak of these “entrepreneurs” who “took risks”, often pulling themselves up from poverty, as if they had absolutely no help at all. That would explain how the discrimination blacks faced in the past could be ignored. If you can’t get a loan (because of race), then not as many of them will be able to start a business. But that doesn’t matter. People can do it all by themselves, so why weren’t blacks able to, where other groups were? It must be something about them.
This is what most of my treatment of the subject here has been about, and it was nice to see the president go directly after this thinking (And this article set it straight again, instead of just ignoring it as seems usual). The conservatives have hardly ever had to deal with such an answer to their rhetoric, and so, have to take a few words out of context, and pretend the rest don’t exist.

In other news, here’s another good article on where all the money is really going:

Super-Rich Hide $21 Trillion in Secret Tax Havens, Says Tax Justice Network

Also, I see the birthers are at it again, now going after some British document that supposedly proves Obama was born in Kenya, and raises questions about whether he is even Obama Sr’s real son.

From → Politics

  1. I listened to his remarks live. When he said “You didn’t build that.” The “that” sounded to me like he was talking about the Infrastructure. It wasn’t till the talking-heads started yapping did I realize I had misunderstood. Sorry.

    • It could be extended to the infrastructure, inasmuch as he did generalize it to “Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive”. The point was, no one did any of it all by themselves.

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