"You Didn't Build That"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 18 2012 5:45 PM

"You Didn't Build That"

The always on-target Phil Klein analyzes our current meme and aims to rebut the pro-Obama spinners.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Obama’s defenders argue the “that” in “you didn’t build that” refers to “roads and bridges.” I’m not so sure we can make that assumption, given that “business” is the noun that directly precedes the pronoun “that.”
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Okay, toss whatever "hack" insults you want at me, because I completely think that Obama was referring to roads and bridges. Look at the (to their credit) full video the RNC clipped.

Watch (again, can't believe I'm saying this) the body language. Obama is gesticulating to count off the various ways people have been helped -- great teacher, American system. At 0:44, he says "somebody invested in roads and bridges," and gyrates his arms as if mapping out said roads and bridges. "If you've got a business," he says, making one more gyration, "that -- you didn't build that." The extra "that," a false start, is not captured in transcripts. It really looks like "that" refers to the stuff that business-builders utilized on the way up, not the businesses themselves. Obama switched up, mid-sentence. These things happen.

What really convinces me, here, is that the Fox News and Romney campaign versions of the clip start RIGHT AFTER the gyrations.

See the difference? They've repeated it several times in quick succession, because they're very, very concerned about the context.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.