I disagree with Hightower.

What you will find here is: a centrist's view of current events;
a collection of thoughts, arguments, and observations
that I have found appealing and/or amusing over the years;
and, if you choose, your civil contributions which will make it into a conversation.

He not busy bein' born, is busy dyin'. - Bob Dylan

Please refer to participants only by their designated identities.

suggestion for US citizens: When a form asks for your race, write in: -- American

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Obama on business -2

On 7-16 I posted a quote from President Obama:    “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.”  Of course the president said some other things.  If I had known about the next sentence, (Somebody else made that happen.), I would have included it as well.  I don’t remember my source, but it was apparently not FoxNews since  Media Matters says that FoxNews added the second sentence and more in their presentation.

MM offered the following rendition. [my emphasis]
 OBAMA: “[L]ook, 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 point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That's how we funded the GI Bill. That's how we created the middle class. That's how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That's how we invented the Internet. That's how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that's the reason I'm running for President -- because I still believe in that idea. You're not on your own, we're in this together.”
End MM quote

Except for the two sentences (in red bold above) I would agree with everything that President Obama said.  In fact I would agree with variations of those two sentences as well.  For example:  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that alone.  Somebody else made that happen a contribution to that

I have argued all of my adult life (which began at about age 35) that I have been very fortunate to be born in this time and place and that it would be silly for me to claim exclusive credit or moral superiority for what little I have achieved.  I have had help from many directions including the various governments.  Consequently, I have no quarrel with the state saying “good for you” and claiming a right to a significant part of what I have received for my work (incidentally, not in business) because they contributed to the environment.  On the other hand, I did do my part.  If I hadn’t worked at it, it wouldn’t have happened for me.

These two statements by the President go well beyond what is described in the previous paragraph and they also go well beyond what he was saying in the rest of his remarks. There is no reference here to the other things he said. 

If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.

Those two sentences stand completely alone in their meaning and their meaning is ominous.  They do not say that you ought to share credit for your accomplishments with the economic and political environment.  They say that you didn’t have anything to do with it.  The environment did it.  “Somebody else made that happen.”  In political and economic terms, what are the logical consequences of that? 


  1. As Tom kind of said, the President made his position clear in the entirety of the statement (forgive me Tom if I misrepresent what you meant). To me, the 2 sentences you have rightly singled out are not representative of his position. But they are the ones making the Internet rounds as representing his position.

    One of my real criticisms of President Obama is that he has not put near enough effort and resources into making sure that his messages are clear and understood by Americans. He has allowed the faithful opposition to take his messages and turn them against him with hardly a murmur from him in response. I am extremely disappointed in him for that. If he loses the election I believe that will be the underlying reason. He has allowed the opposition to define him without much of a struggle.

    1. WRT clear messaging – A significant number of Obama supporters have suggested the very thing Bruce suggests – that everyone would like Obama’s policies if we only understood them. It was somewhere in grade school the first time someone attempted to win an argument by telling me I simply didn’t understand. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.

  2. Most of the President’s comments are regarding infrastructure and I know of no one of any political stripe that fails to recognize the value of and the need to support infrastructure. The comments, for the most part, seem to be thrown against a nonexistent “straw man”.

    The exception would be the two sentences that Wayne Highlighted. Occasionally I give politicians a pass for putting their foot in their mouth just because they talk too much. The two sentences in question may someday fall into that category, but not today.

  3. Tom, I recognize your sacred right to hold those 2 sentences against him and I am quite sure that as an intelligent man of experience and good breeding you have excellent reasons for doing so, but it baffles me as to how one can ignore all the other sentences in the speech and hone in on 2 clearly adlibbed ones that, at least in my mind, conflict with everything else in the speech, as even plausibly being the true meaning of what he REALLY meant. Perhaps I have more empathy because I have my foot in my mouth quite often. (I know I'm not the President but we do have one thing in common, at least...we are both human...I think.)

    And I also am not sure about your "straw man" theory. I know plenty of people who choose to believe that they are soley responsible for their success "because they worked hard and made good decisions and everyone else should do the same".

    As far as you not knowing anyone of any political stripe that fails to recognize the value of and the need to support infrastructure, I would only ask "why isn't it being supported then?" They may recognize the need for it but there is an awful lot not being done about it. We have a perfect storm of need and unemployed labor but what is being done to take advantage? Very little as far as I can see.

    1. WRT your foot in mouth empathy with the President. The difference is that you have not been held up a legendary class orator.

      WRT to why infrastructure isn't being supported perhaps it is for the same reason that nothing else is being done: each party believes that they will be better positioned after the next election.

      BTW I would add to your perfect storm the fact that the govt can borrow at 2% on 10yr treasuries.

    2. Low interest rates, an employment problem, and infrastructure needs. Seems like a good time to move on this. I agree with Wayne that election-year politics are fully operational right now. It would be really cool if the political system incentivized getting this kind of stuff done... even in an election year.

    3. WRT to 2% on borrowing – I firmly believe that borrowing to expand and grow is one of the most powerful tools ever invented by man and I agree with Wayne that this would be a good time to “borrow” and improve infrastructure, IF WE HAVE A PLAN TO PAY IT BACK. I would support borrowing to support infrastructure with a plan to pay it back, I would support an infrastructure tax, but I can’t support adding to the debt. If borrowing at 2% (or any percent) simply adds to the existing debt I am a’gin it.

  4. Obama: "If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen."

    Wayne's variation: "If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that alone.  Somebody else made a contribution to that."

    Within the context that Bruce noted in an earlier comment, I can buy that Obama really meant (or at least believes) something like Wayne's variation.

    But overall I basically agree with Wayne's take on this.

    Another thought: If it were me, and the phrase "you didn't build that" had come out of my mouth, I wouldn't have doubled down on it by saying "Somebody else made that happen" -- certainly not if I was trying to say something else. So I tend to think Obama meant to say it the way he did, but perhaps for reasons of political strategy or something else.

    Still, I really don't see how this pair of phrases can help Obama. And as Tom indicates, Obama's stuck with it for now. I share Bruce's sense that Obama hasn't been particularly effective in "messaging". This has really surprised me, considering how stellar he was in the last campaign.

  5. Interesting response to this by PBS and Foxnews Special Report.

    A) PBS reported the two sentence excerpt and Romney's handling of it and offered no alternative explanation of meaning.

    B) Fox brought it up in the analysis segment and one of their more conservative participants, Stephen Hayes, offered the suggestion that perhaps it was just a grammatical error and the "that" was intended to refer to the previous sentence. It would then fit in with the rest of the speech.
    "Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." Maybe he meant: "Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build 'those roads and bridges'. Somebody else made that happen."

    I thought that that was an odd reversal and might be credible, but then I remembered that:
    "You can't believe anything on Fox."

    1. Whether this was some awkward phraseology or something else, it looks pretty bad when it's isolated in red. Stephen Hayes' interpretation makes a lot of sense, and Obama's messaging folks should probably run with that.

    2. Steve’s explanation would work. Rob is right; the WH should run with that.

  6. Having seen the video this morning it is clear that Steve is right. The business owner did not build the infrastructure that allowed him or her to succeed. I was just having a discussion the other day about how much communication is lost when the deliverer cannot be seen and heard by the receiver. This is a good example. Even I thought Obama had made a misstatement based on a reading of it, but when I saw and heard him saying these things, his oratory skills were still evident (unlike me and my foot in mouth moments Wayne), and his meaning was clear, as evidenced by the crowd response.

    1. If Steve’s suggestion is correct then one would expect that the WH would have offered that explanation immediately. They did not. I will rate Steve’s suggestion as plausible and leaning toward probable. Has anyone heard the WH offer this explanation?

    2. Steve later amended his remarks and said that the context does not help and in fact makes it worse.

      I believe that the right finds the main thing wrong with Obama's remarks is that, in success, he is placing the emphasis on what the government does rather than what the individual does. That is consistent with their view of him as advocating a "government centered society".

      In the response that I heard Obama make he repeated it and put in an "and so" in front of the offending sentences and dismissed it all as silly.

    3. I will accept the “and so” as reasonable and plausible and put the sentence as spoken in the verbal gaff category. The fact that so many were willing to accept the “possibility” that Obama might have indeed made such a statement speaks volumes. The silly comment seems unnecessarily dismissive.

  7. Oh, and with regard to FOX, you can find truth on there, and MSNBC too by the way. But the effort is usually not worth the value of what one may learn. And by effort I refer to the hours of wading through the propaganda, not to mention the effort of explaining to my wife why I am yelling at the television. At least Jon Stewart is funny and only lasts 30 minutes.

    1. A. Many would say the same (wading through propaganda) about any of the media.

      B. If you want your news from a comedian, then JS is a way to go.

  8. Wayne:

    A: Comparing the perceived propaganda on major network news to that of MSNBC and FOX is like comparing Cut & Shoot, TX to New York City, NY because they're both cities. There's much more contrast than comparison. However, I will admit that there are many sources of propaganda other than MSNBC, FOX and JS. We are bombarded, as a matter of fact.

    B: JS is not where I would go looking for my news, even though, like FOX and MSNBC, he gets it right sometimes.

    And speaking of News, I have been watching a new show on HBO called Newsroom created and written by Aaron Sorkin. There have been 2 episodes so far and I consider it to be "must see tv". And I haven't seen "must see tv" in a long long time. But, maybe that's just me. Yes, I understand that Sorkin is a leftist, but he also seeems to have a real soft spot for the truth. He's also a very good story teller.

  9. Correction, there have been 4 episodes of "The Newsroom", to be accurate.