Who Didn’t Build What?

by Michael Walsh

On his blog, Taking Note, Andrew Rosenthal, the editor of the New York Times’s editorial page, is trying to come to grips with why President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” Kinsley gaffe won’t just shut up and go away. Naturally, he blames Fox News for taking Obama’s words “out of context” (thus parroting the current Democratic damage-control talking point), then points at the Romney campaign for picking up the meme, and concludes, in classic lefty style, by accusing businessmen who get government loans and contracts of “hypocrisy,” as if they live and work in an entirely different universe, one in which government’s hand is not constantly in their pockets and their tills.

For Obama supporters, the story is exasperating because the word “that” in “you didn’t build that” so clearly refers to “roads and bridges,” not to businesses. In context, that’s obvious. And it’s exasperating because so many of the “builders” at the “we did build this” events seem like hypocrites—who benefit not only from taxpayer-financed roads, but from more direct government support, and still rail against a nonexistent insult to their self-sufficiency.

Unless Rosenthal is now prepared to argue that the smartest guy ever to become president and the author of the best-written memoir ever penned by an American president is grammatically challenged, this statement makes no sense. “Roads and bridges” is not a “that” — the clear antecedent is the word “business.” Let’s go to the videotape:


Rosenthal continues:
Finally it’s exasperating because—I humbly submit—the story reveals a deep-but-basic difference in how liberals and conservatives view the world.
Liberals are more likely to believe that one’s success in life depends not only on individual initiative but on family background and where you grew up (not just which country, but which neighborhood) and educational opportunities and luck. As Bill Gates, Sr. told Bill Moyers, “’You earned it’ is really a matter of ‘you earned it with the indispensable help of your government.’ You earned it in this wonderful place. If you’d been born in West Africa, you would not have earned it. It would not have occurred. Your wealth is a function of being an American.” Hard work, liberals think, is often not enough. Lots of unsuccessful people work very hard; lots of successful people don’t.
Whereas conservatives (and I’m painting with a broad brush) are more likely to credit hard work alone.
In other words, liberals are more likely to believe that “if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that”—where “that” actually means your business (and not roads and bridges, as the president would have it). “You” played a very large part, but, to quote the president, “somebody along the line gave you some help.” And that is why this campaign story won’t go away.
Did somebody say family background? No wonder Andy’s a liberal.



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