Posted Tuesday, July 17, 2012, at 2:45 PM
It's fascinating to watch a specific news organization, or sector of the media, push a story until a candidate picks it up. Five days ago, President Obama made a rambling, Elizabeth Warren-ian point about how we're All In This Together.
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.
This is a little stupid (I don't think Arpanet creators thought "one day, people will sell and buy old lawn furniture with this thing!"), but it's a pretty basic liberal argument. Taxes pay for things. Obama apparently realized that the line was weak, and dropped it, and during this period the "you didn't build that" section has been weaponized.
An example from today, when Rob Portman appears on Fox and Friends. "The president has said, that your success was not your doing -- that the government had a lot to do with it," says Gretchen Carlson, contradicting herself. (There's a difference between "not your doing" and "somebody else helped, but you did it.") The version of the clip cuts out right before Obama's reference to roads. "So if you have a business, somebody else made that happen. That line, I think, is resonating throughout America this morning." Portman says small business owners have been saying it back to him -- how dare anyone think they had nothing to do with the creation of their own businesses.
Am I difference-splitting? Yeah, because there's a difference to split! The quote is being used to demonstrate that the president literally can not imagine, or hates to imagine, private industry working without the aid of government. But this is actually a belated anti-Tea Party argument, about how anti-government rhetoric is fun, but you need this system to be fully funded with a lot of buy-in. You could make a different version of the argument if you're Michele Bachmann, explaining why everyone -- even the very poor -- should pay some income taxes, lest they forget the impact of the state.
It all reminds me of the endless furor over Obama's 2008 comment that his election would "fundamentally transform the United States of America." Didn't really matter what the guy meant. It was Rosetta Stone proof that he was as much of a Communist as you thought he was.