The Corner

Opposing Big Government Isn’t the Same As Opposing Community

The Obama campaign’s newest video argues that Mitt Romney is launching a “false attack” against the President’s now notorious remark that “if you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen”:

Here is Obama’s comment in context:

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 thing that strikes me the most about this video — besides the fact that the Obama campaign is realizing Romney has added a new energy to his stump speeches by playing off this line of Obama’s — is how it shows that the Democrats really don’t seem to understand that being anti-big-government is not the same as being anti-community. Liking teachers, as Romney does in this video, and recognizing their influence, doesn’t mean you need to believe in a government system that kowtows to the unions and pays (and keeps, in times of layoffs) teachers based on tenure, not on excellence. 

#more#The second Romney line that the Obama video highlights is: “You really couldn’t have a business if you didn’t have those things.” Via BuzzFeed, here’s the full context of that Romney remark:

“He said this, ‘If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.’ That somebody else is government in his view. He goes on to describe the people who deserve the credit for building this business, and of course he describes people who we care very deeply about, who make a difference in our lives: schoolteachers, firefighters, people who build roads. We need those things. We value schoolteachers, firefighters, people who build roads. You really couldn’t have a business if you didn’t have those things, but you know, we pay for those things. The taxpayers pay for government. It’s not like government just provides those to all of us and we say ‘Aw, thank you, government for doing those things.’ No, in fact, we pay for them, and we benefit from them, and we appreciate the work that they do, and the sacrifices that are done by people who work in government, but they did not build this business.” 

Now the part bolded was bolded by Buzzfeed, and this item was headlined, “New Romney Video Omits Passage Apparently Agreeing With Obama.” Presumably, the Obama campaign agrees with that interpretation and that’s why they included the short version in this video.

But there’s a catch, namely what Romney adds: “you know, we pay for those things.” Romney understands that the government depends on and is accountable to the voters, rather than being some benevolent power who gives to voters without taking anything. Yes, roads helped a business owner — but that business owner’s choice to vote for politicians who voted for spending his tax dollars on infrastructure is what brought that about. This argument was never about whether roads help businesses; it was about the proper relationship between a business owner and the road-building government. And on that, Romney and Obama do not see eye-to-eye.

Liberals don’t own the idea of the importance of community, of how social institutions and personal relationships are vital to well-being, including at times economic well-being or success. The conservative argument is for freedom, not for all-around individualism. In fact, there’s a case to be made that communities are stronger under smaller government, when voluntary associations and cooperation are especially crucial for getting projects done and ensuring that all in the community (such as the poor and sick) are taken care of.

The choice this election is not whether we should all live in isolated cabins by ourselves or if we should live around our fellow human beings in towns and cities. The choice is about the role and extent of the government. 

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...


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