The Corner

‘You Didn’t Build That’

James Taranto labels as “bunk” the Obama campaign’s argument that Obama didn’t mean that a business owner didn’t build his business when he said “you didn’t build that.” The Obama campaign claims that it is obvious that Obama was referring to the roads, bridges, and infrastructure that a business depends upon when he said “you didn’t build that.” I’ve listened to the portion of the speech and actually agree that Obama — who was speaking without aid of his pacifier, er, teleprompter — was probably referring to the roads and bridges mentioned in his prior sentence when he said, “You didn’t build that.” I’ll give Taranto the benefit of the doubt that it is at least a debatable point, but listening to the speech in context, it is likely that Obama was really saying “If you’re a business owner, you didn’t build the infrastructure your business depends on. Government did.” That he can’t articulate the thought cleanly without the assistance of a teleprompter should not be that surprising. 

The thing is, even accepting that as true and accepting the less nefarious construction of the sentence, it doesn’t make Obama’s statement that much more palatable. He’s still claiming that the small-business owner who toils to eke out a living while putting food on the table of his employees and serving the needs of some portion of the community owes much of his success to government, and is not the singular cause of his own success. It’s a silly and specious strawman, and it doesn’t take into account that the business owner is already paying taxes to fund those roads, bridges, and other government services that his business benefits from. Obama seems to suggest that much more is owed to the government that makes all things possible. All of the naysaying from the Obama campaign is for naught. In context or out of context, the speech is equally appalling and runs counter to how most Americans view individual success.   

Shannen W. Coffin is a contributing editor to National Review. He practices appellate law in Washington, D.C.

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