Mike Kueber's Blog

July 20, 2012

“You didn’t build that.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 12:38 pm
Tags: , , ,

The conservative internet is going crazy over the allegation that President Obama recently asserted, “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”  Surely, he wouldn’t say that because both political parties have for decades agreed that small-business entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the American economy.  If Obama did say it, it must have been a casual comment unintended for public consumption, like his comment in 2008 at a San Francisco fundraiser about common folks clinging to their guns and religion.  And if it was intended for public consumption, it must have been taken out of context.  As reported by ABC News’s Jake Tapper, however, President Obama did in fact utter those words in a public speech and they weren’t taken out of context. 

Several pundits have pointed out that President Obama borrowed this controversial assertion from the Democratic senate candidate from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, who made a similar argument last year that was a huge success on YouTube.  The problem is that President Obama is not running for the senate in Massachusetts.  What sells in Massachusetts won’t necessarily sell in the rest of America, as evidenced by the different public reactions to RomneyCare and ObamaCare.

America’s pre-eminent conservative pundit, Charles Krauthammer, has already gone on TV and given Romney excellent advice on what to do with President Obama’s unforced error:

  • I think Obama has made the gaffe of the year when he said if you created a business, you didn’t build it. That phrase, ‘you didn’t build it’ should be hung around Obama until the end of his presidency.
  • I read the totality of the statement and it’s worse if you read it all. Essentially, he has a view that is antithetical to view that the majority of the Americans have, which is that enterprise, initiative of the markets are what drive American wealth and excellence and achievements. Government is parasitic on that and lives off the excess wealth in the form of taxation.
  • Obama has view at the heart of American excellence and achievement is government, not enterprise. And I think what Romney ought to do is take the headline in today’s lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal, ‘Solyndra versus Staples.’ And he has to have a simple slogan, Romney, which is, ‘Obama and his administration gave you Solyndra, using your money incidentally. I and my colleagues in the free enterprise system gave you Staples with all the jobs and all the wealth and all the accrued wealth it gave to the foundations with the pension and the universities that invested with us in those enterprises.’

What is the full context of President Obama’s controversial statement?  As follows:

  • We’ve already made a trillion dollars’ worth of cuts.  We can make some more cuts in programs that don’t work, and make government work more efficiently…We can make another trillion or trillion-two, and what we then do is ask for the wealthy to pay a little bit more …
  • There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me, because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t -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 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.”

The Romney campaign seems well-prepared to follow Krauthammer’s advice, as evidenced by the fact that the campaign website is already selling a shirt that re-states and repudiates the presidential declaration.   

Krauthammer followed up with his TV advice to Romney by writing a column that intellectually eviscerates the economic philosophy espoused first by Elizabeth Warren and later by President Obama.  As no one can do better than Krauthammer, he points out:

  1. Infrastructure is available to everyone, while success is due to “the energy, enterprise, risk-taking, hard work and genius of the individual.  It is therefore precisely those individual characteristics, not the communal utilities, that account for the different outcomes.”
  2. “The level of investment in government infrastructure is not what separates liberals from conservatives.  More nonsense.  Infrastructure is not a liberal idea, nor is it particularly new….  The argument between left and right is about what you do beyond infrastructure. It’s about transfer payments and redistributionist taxation, about geometrically expanding entitlements, about tax breaks and subsidies to induce actions pleasing to central planners.  It’s about free contraceptives for privileged students and welfare without work — the latest Obama entitlement-by-decree that would fatally undermine the great bipartisan welfare reform of 1996. It’s about endless government handouts that, ironically, are crowding out necessary spending on, yes, infrastructure.”
  3. “Beyond infrastructure, the conservative sees the proper role of government as providing not European-style universal entitlements but a firm safety net, meaning Julia-like treatment for those who really cannot make it on their own — those too young or too old, too mentally or physically impaired, to provide for themselves.  Limited government so conceived has two indispensable advantages. It avoids inexorable European-style national insolvency. And it avoids breeding debilitating individual dependency. It encourages and celebrates character, independence, energy, hard work as the foundations of a free society and a thriving economy — precisely the virtues Obama discounts and devalues in his accounting of the wealth of nations.”

In recent years, campaigns have turned so ugly and negative that often the public has a distorted impression of what the important issues are.  This particular issue, however, might facilitate an evaluation and comparison of Romney and Obama on a matter of substance.  Unfortunately for Obama supporters, I am quite confident that most Americas still subscribe to Ronald Reagan’s famous admonition that government is the problem, not the solution.    

In fact, a poll released earlier this week confirmed that fact – 64% see government as the problem, while only 23% see government as the solution.  Interestingly, Democrats are split 41%-41% on this question, while Republicans are 88%-6% and even Independents are 66%-18%. 

Because of these numbers, I would not be surprised to President Obama back away from the Elizabeth Warren position, but I suspect permanent damage has been done.



  1. we will never know if it did damage, i just hope it pursuades lots of people to vote against obama. of course, we need to extend control of the house, and take control of the senate. harry reid is disaster but is immensely powerful.

    Comment by q — July 23, 2012 @ 12:52 am | Reply

  2. obama is stating the rhetoric of his party and cohorts. they are all clueless. the government provides value when they enable fair competition and create public infrastructure. when their cost exceeds their value they are a problem. regardless, it is everyday working stiffs that generate wealth.

    we are at some interesting inflection points. If you round up or down 1 or 2 percentage points here is where the nation stands:
    1. 50% of households pay tax – 50% don’t
    2. 50% that pay tax work for local, state, or federal government – they don’t create wealth, their pay comes from taxing those that create wealth – when they pay income tax they are really just discounting their pay – in others words a federal worker making $100k and paying $20k in taxes isn’t really paying taxes because they created no wealth – essentially their true pay is disguised and they really make $80k – their income tax is not contributing to our tax base
    3. 50% of americans in 2012 were born out of wedlock
    4. 50% of american households receive some government aid

    what we can derive from this:
    1. we have a problem – why would the 50% that don’t pay tax vote to cut taxes?
    2. we have a problem – why would the 50% that work for the gov vote to cut gov pay,benefits, or jobs?
    3. we have a problem – why would these folks vote to give up their gov benefits?
    4. we have a problem – why would these folks vote to cut their benefits?

    thanks FDR, LBJ, and Obama

    the founding fathers knew from reading Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates that true democracy was flawed. they created a republic and required land ownership for people to have a vote – they were trying to keep the have nots (collectively the same as a King) from using the government to take from the haves. it worked until 3 terms of fdr. not bad boyz.


    Comment by Q — July 25, 2012 @ 1:32 am | Reply

  3. […] All of these remarks, which could easily have been uttered by the villains in Ayn Rand’s masterpiece Atlas Shrugged, can be read in their fuller context in my 7/20 blog entry.  […]

    Pingback by “You didn’t build that” causes Ayn Rand to roll over in her grave. « Mike Kueber's Blog — August 3, 2012 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

  4. […] her native Texas by calling it Mississippi with good roads.  Liberal president Barack Obama famously disparaged small-business people by saying, “You didn’t built this” – i.e., America’s amazing […]

    Pingback by Infrastructure and deficit spending « Mike Kueber's Blog — September 5, 2012 @ 2:19 am | Reply

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