Romney on Obama’s “You Didn’t Build That”

Hey, it’s time for campaign ads. (Apologies to those of you who’ve been suffering from them for a while. I live in a non-swing state, so they, like Aaron Sorkin, are still kind of fresh-sounding to me.) You’ve probably heard about this already, but I wanted to note it in passing. Here’s Obama speaking at a campaign event in Roanoke on July 13:

I think it’s pretty obvious that the “you didn’t build that” line was meant to refer to the bridges and roads Obama mentioned just before that. Romney, though, has cut that part out, making it sound like Obama was saying small business owners didn’t build their businesses:

It’s fairly small potatoes, I realize, as political fibs go. But it’s early days. I’m sure we’ll get better whoppers as we move closer to election day.

11 Responses to “Romney on Obama’s “You Didn’t Build That””

  1. shcb Says:

    This is probably the primary difference between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives believe in equal opportunity and liberals believe in equal outcome.

    Yes, the successful didn’t build the roads, they didn’t pay the k-12 teacher any more that the unsuccessful. Yes there are unsuccessful people that work hard, there are unsuccessful that work smart, but the successful work hardER they work smartER. The unsuccessful could have used the roads to their full potential but made life decisions to not. The unsuccessful could have used their early education to its full potential but decided to not. The roads, the k-12, fire protection, police, military, they are all neutral factors if your world view is one of opportunity not one of leveling outcomes.

    So for all their hard work and smart work liberals like Obama want to confiscate more of their money, why? Because they can afford it. That fits one sense of equality and not the other.

  2. Smith Says:

    “but the successful work hardER they work smartER.”


    There is no way you are stupid enough to believe this.

  3. shcb Says:

    His premise is wrong on so many levels, imagine how the people that actually built those roads feel. While minor maintenance is routinely done by government employees, major construction is done by private contractors, they did work harder and smarter to not only get the bid, but to make enough money to pay their employees and have some left over to be more successful than the guy who didn’t and went broke.

    When you try and divide the country like Obama does, you are going to piss someone off. It’s still early, but I hope this sinks his hopes and dreams of a second term.

  4. enkidu Says:

    “Conservatives believe in equal opportunity and liberals believe in equal outcome.”


    Mr Smith, I’m not so sure about your last line there..

  5. shcb Says:

    Saw this on Facebook today

    Poor president Obama, if he gets reelected look at the mess he is going to inherit.

  6. enkidu Says:

    So right wingers are finally acknowledging that the previous President had something to do with the crises of 2007/2008? (09/10/11/12) Better late than never. Hey maybe y’all should pick Rob Portman for veep with Rmoney, you know Bush’s Director OMB? Might stimulate some awesome ‘debate’.

    Judging by this chart I think we are doing OK (would be doing better if the tea party (and the Rthugs in general) weren’t ruining any hope of even the most basic cooperation. Example: if we had bipartisan support for basic things like road and infrastructure investment, say just to the level of when Saint Ronnie Raygun was Prez? we’d be in much better shape overall.

  7. shcb Says:

    Ha ha, nice try but I don’t think that was the intent

  8. enkidu Says:

    Rmoney’s attack ad should be entitled: These Lies
    iirc poor poor Mr Gilchrist and his business have indeed benefited from a few instances of government help:

    – about $1 million in tax breaks/interest free loans from the guv
    (by some accounts I’ve seen on the intertubes this could be in the millions?)
    – about 10% of his biz is from the Dept of Defense
    – the internet (Al Gore wasn’t able to do it entirely on his own ;)
    – roads
    – bridges
    – sewers
    – water treatment facilities
    – clean air laws
    – clean water laws
    – reasonable financial oversight (ha!)
    – farm subsides
    – insuring nuclear power plants
    – the IRS (ooooh scary!)
    – firefighters
    – teachers
    – police
    – army/airforce/navy/marines


    I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few more trifling instances like the National Park system, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and some other fluff n stuff. Oh and the FDA. For those meds he’s taking for psychosis or whatever it is that makes wrong wing nut jobs just so nutty delicious! And hilarious.

  9. enkidu Says:


  10. shcb Says:

    no crickets, I just answered you in my first post.

  11. __j__ Says:

    Well, I’ll chip in my pair of digital pennies, and drown up the cricket-noises. I’m not a Romney fan, and he certainly is a flip-flopper, but this is one case where his marketroid-soundbite (We Built It) really does have truth at the core, and the Obama soundbite — that he borrowed off of a current dem-senate-in-MA-candidate and former TARP-bailout-advisor-to-Obama by the name of Warren — really is false at the core (tho one can easily get confused by a common but false underlying premise). With the other posts on this site related to honesty in politicians, and with the awesome URL of the site itself, I trust that you fine folks will read through the argument I give in support of my conclusions.

    First of all, to be clear, what do the pronouns refer to? Obama is saying that ‘you’ did not build ‘that’ by which he means you-successful-people did not build those roads-and-bridges. The assertion of the owner of, which enkidu agrees with, is that Romney is lying by pulling a fast one, and switching around the pronouns. According to this Romney-lies view, enkidu et al believe that Romney is accusing Obama of saying you-successful-folk did not build your-own-business. In fact, and stay with me here, Romney *is* claiming that. In fact, that *is* what Obama is claiming (by implication), albeit with an unstated assumption.

    Yes, Obama is literally saying that you-successful-folk did not build roads-and-bridges. But, if that is the case, then who did build them? Obama is implying, and fervently believes, that the government built them. Romney would say, wrong. Under the republican worldview, the bridges were built by successful private-sector construction companies, paid with taxpayer dollars… and those taxpayer-dollars *themselves* were created by successful private-sector companies in the first place. The government did, therefore, not build those roads. The private companies did. The entrepreneurs. Whether you agree with the analysis or not, that is in fact the position of the Romney campaign, and methinks of republicans in general. Successful folks *are* the ones who built the roads-and-bridges. Gedanken: if there were no successful private-sector businesses the previous generation, would there be any roads now? The government cannot just magically fiat roads into existence (contrast w/ fiat money).

    But I would go one step further, and say that the pronoun-switching idea *is* something that Romney is accusing Obama of. Quite truthfully, because Obama really means both things. Although it is plain as day that Obama literally said, following the standard rules of grammar, that you-successful-folk did not build those roads-and-bridges, that is not the only thing he means to imply. Logically, if business X is using roads-and-bridges, and they did not build those roads and bridges, then business X got *help* from somebody, namely, the person that built the roads. Therefore, business X does not actually deserve the credit for their success: they only succeeded because of the road-builders. Obama assumes, and the average citizen will also assume right along with him, that government built the roads. But this is not the case: those roads were built by the previous generation of successful folks, the private-sector construction firm business Y, and the private-sector taxpaying firm business Z et al.

    Anyway, it takes a lot of verbiage to explain it like this, step by step, but I hope I have made the point clear. When the repubs say We Built It, they are talking about we-successful-folk did build *both* the roads-and-bridges (the older generation of successful folks that paid taxes from their successful businesses of all types and ran successful road-construction firms), as well as our own new-and-not-yet-founded businesses (the current and future generations of successful folks). The *people* that built the roads are often different individuals, but the class — owners and workers in successful businesses — is always the same. Therefore, it is insulting for Obama to insinuate that government built those roads, because businesses are what built them, successful entrepreneurs. When the dems like Obama and Warren come right out and say You Didn’t Build That, what they mean literally is that the current-gen entrepreneur did not themselves personally construct Interstate 40 (or whatever road is nearby), but by straightforward logical extension, they *also* mean that your business is not really your own (since you had help), and furthermore that the government is justified in taxing you-successful-business-folk heaps&plenty (because the only reason your piddly biz has any success is because the government gave you roads and bridges). The dems don’t come right out and say all this, perhaps because it would make the logical mistake obvious. To repubs, and libertarians for that matter, the taxpayer-dollars are owned by the taxpayer, but to Obama, that money is Government Revenue owned by all those in charge in D.C.

    As for the list of things-besides-roads-and-bridges, which “every” business depends on, most of them suffer from exactly the same logical mistake, of assuming that the government (as opposed to the previous generation of successful folks) is the owner-and-originator.

    Consider the internet — what did Gore mean when he said that he invented it? Same as what Obama means, when he implies that government is responsible for roads-and-bridges, and therefore ultimately responsible for every successful business. Gore did not invent the internet, it was invented by researchers like Tim Berners-Lee, and by the owners and employees of entrepreneurial startup companies like Netscape. Before that, the ARPAnet was invented by the previous generation of researchers, and run on top of the privately owned infrastructure of the POTS lines. Before that, the transistor, before that, the electronic computer, before that, the mechanical calculator, and on and on…. Industrial progress built the internet, in other words. Free enterprise. Enkidu, I know what you will try and say — those researchers used government grant money! They got money from the DoD to invent a nuke-proof networking protocol, and such. Yes… but where did that grant money come from, and where did that DoD money come from? Taxes, which Obama likes to call Government Revenues. And where did the taxes come from? Successful folks, of the previous generation, paying their taxes. Don’t thank the tax-collector for the internet, thank those tax-payers. Don’t thank the government for your business, thank yourself. Don’t thank Obama for your roads, thank the previous generation of successful folks.

    @shcb, your first post was a bit sloppy. The successful folks *did* build those roads, because those roads were built by the previous generation of successful folks. Don’t fall into the trap of the assumption that, because the government pays federal employees to maintain the roads (using taxpayer-dollars!) that therefore the government has some claim to own the roads. Every single one of those taxpayer-dollars came from successful private-sector firms, even the ones that were borrowed from overseas (in which case the firms that provided the loan-money were still successful and still private-sector but just from another nationality).

    @enkidu, That first thing you mentioned, which *does* have a kernel of truth, is the idea that tax breaks from the government, and interest-free loans from the government, are unfair. Absolutely 100% correct. Bailouts are bad. Tax breaks for one group, but not for another group, are unfair on the face of it. Any time you have the government using taxpayer dollars to pick winners and losers, you are guaranteeing corruption, abuse of power, waste, and fraud. Obama is surely guilty of this (Solyndra and GM and on and on), but repubs are rarely much better (and often much worse… Halliburton is a recent example… but Credit Mobiliere of the 1800s is more pertinent to our discussion of who-really-built-the-roads).

    Solving this kind of tax-break-related corruption is extremely difficult, but I think the best approach is to reform the tax-code, and permanently eliminate all the loopholes and such, giving everybody a flat tax of 16% on all personal income above $16k/yr (inflation adjusted Y2000 realdollar amount!) or something along those lines, plus a threshold-adjustment of +$8k/yr for the first dependent, +$4k/yr for the second dependent, and so on. No marriage tax-break. No oil-company tax-breaks. No death-tax. No payroll-tax. No fees, those count as taxes. No obamacare-penalty-mandates or similar, those count as a tax (per the supreme court ruling). Maximum size of the tax-code set at 4321 words, the length of our original Constitution, permanently. No other federal taxes of any sort, except that single flat tax on income. There would still be difficulty with state tax such as the sales-tax and the state-income-tax and license-fees and such, but that would be minor compared to the benefit of getting rid of 99% of the tax-code, 99% of IRS employees, and 99% of tax paperwork.

    Long post. I tried to keep it as brief as I could (make things as simple as possible — but no simpler — as the great man said). But like shcb says, Built-It soundbites make people angry. Often that’s a bad sign, indicating that the soundbite is just hitting an emotion, but in this case, it is a good thing, because the soundbites lead straight to a deep premise, a fundamental bedrock on which one can base their worldview of the universe. Does the government OWN all that money they collect in taxes, or not? Obama says yes, and furthermore, that Buffett owes the government more taxes, since he’s been using government-owned government-built roads. Romney says no, those taxpayer-dollars are merely *entrusted* to the government, and more taxation is always the wrong answer. (And, well, to explain THAT one, I guess, one more paragraph is required. Good thing this is the internet, not a television soundbite.)

    Unfair and divisive taxation that targets a minority is *especially* the wrong answer. Occupy-folk always have trouble imagining the conception that they are rioting in favor of the economic destruction of a minority, no differently in spirit than the window-breaking pogroms of Jewish businesses in the previous millenium… even though they love to talk about the “one percent” as their enemy. This is because they have the unstated internal assumption (completely unfounded) that to be a minority you must be a non-white non-male non-wealthy individual. This assumption is acid on our society. Sure, taxation can be unfair (if company X gets a tax-break or a bailout because they have pull in D.C. whereas company Y does not — see above), but the argument put forth by Obama is that rich people have to pay more taxes *because* they are rich, not because the tax system is unfair. If the tax system was merely unfair, then the correct way to fix it would be to reduce the tax burden on secretaries, not to hike up the tax burden on their bosses. Obama does not think that the tax system is unfair to the secretary; he thinks that rich people do not own their work. Sheesh.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.