Commenter “Gringo” makes an interesting point about Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark:
A big part of the problem is that ∅bama said something that could be interpreted several ways.
Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
If you include the first sentence, the third sentence means that the business owner didn’t make the infrastructure building happen. If you emphasize just the last two sentences, the implication is that the business owner is not responsible for his success.
That ∅bama made a statement with ambiguous meaning contradicts the image of ∅bama as the great wordsmith, the great speechmaker. While Dubya mangled the Queen’s English from time to time, it was pretty clear what he meant. Dubya’s meaning, whatever his problems with syntax, could not be MISUNDERESTIMATED. You knew what Dubya meant.
The lefties have been crying that all three sentences have to be read together. In that case, ∅bama is making a misleading statement, because by paying taxes which funded building roads and bridges, business owners DID help make it happen.”SOMEBODY ELSE” implies that business owners had nothing to do with building infrastructure which is FALSE- as they helped fund them.
Even if you include the first sentence, there are PLENTY of other statements in ∅bama’s Roanoake speech where ∅bama implied that people weren’t responsible for their own success, or where he denigrates individual success. Look up smart people and working hard.
Obama’s message had seemed very clear to me when I first read it and then listened to it. But in retrospect I can see that Gringo is correct, and that there’s a more ambiguous interpretation, although you have to work very very hard to see the alternative one through the maze of Obama’s perhaps-tortured syntax.
Gringo is also correct that even the less offensive interpretation of Obama’s words is only marginally less so, because of course businesses pay taxes (especially those on gas) and user fees such as tolls. And Gringo is further correct that there are plenty of other indications in Obama’s speech that he is saying exactly what we originally thought he was saying—which is that business owners don’t really create things.
Let’s look at Obama’s words once again:
…[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.
Note that Obama repeats “you didn’t get there on your own” twice, for emphasis. He likes rebutting that strawman, but who has ever said that his/her success occurred in a total vacuum? Then Obama jumps to the suggestion that hard work and brains aren’t really related to success, and that successful people cannot be differentiated from the unsuccessful on either of those characteristics, and are successful not because of anything special they do but because they got “help.” He ignores the fact that most of the “help” he lists—the American system (of what: government? business?), and roads and bridges—is available to everyone equally, and everyone is not successful.
So, if the successful are not differentiated from the unsuccessful by their brains or their hard work, nor the “American system” or its roads and bridges, then why are they successful? Is it chance? Is it patronage?
Or is it race or gender? Is this the “American system” Obama really means—racial or gender discrimination? And if so, then why isn’t the “help” of affirmative action that’s been going on for decades causing minorities and women now to be the most successful of all?
Or is it another factor he lists, “great teachers,” that makes all the difference? But if so, what makes some teachers great and others not so great? Is it that great teachers had great teachers? Is it great teachers all the way down?
And what about this sentence, which has gotten a bit lost in the “you didn’t build that” shuffle? It’s pretty amazing all on its own:
Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
In the world according to Obama, companies are parasites on the research done by the government to create the internet, and the government did this (out of the goodness of its heart, I suppose) for the purpose of allowing these companies to make money. If one looks at the actual history of the internet, it’s pretty easy to see that government provided a lot of the early impetus and funding to the many individual academics/scientists/researchers/think-tankers who in fact “invented” the internet, but the original government purpose was military, and the “internet” that was created bore little resemblance to the internet as we now know it. Let’s see:
People often say that the government created the Internet. This is not true.
The Internet is a trillion dollars of fiber optic cables laid in the ground and under our oceans. Fiber optic technology was developed by corporations, such as Corning Glasworks, not the government. The trillion dollars in capital that was used to pay for laying cable came from Wall Street, not the government…
The early days of computing were a hodge-podge of networking standards. Only computers from the same vendor could talk to each other — indeed, often only the same model of computers…In much the same way, around 1980, governments around the world, working with international standards organizations, created the “OSI” or “Open Systems Interconnect” group. The purpose of OSI was to create a single standard for all networks, to create a world wide “internetwork” that all computers could be connected to. By 1990, developed countries (US, Europe, Japan) had laws called “GOSIP” or “Government OSI Profile” that required all computers purchased by the government must support the OSI network standard. All large corporations, such as IBM and HP, supported this standard with their computers.
What’s important about the Internet is that the OSI standard failed. It’s not the standard of today’s Internet. The government backed the wrong horse, so to speak. Instead, today’s Internet is based on TCP/IP — a networking standard the government tried to kill off…
Government threw money at many networks, including the TCP/IP Internet. TCP/IP was influenced by many things, among them the government. But what government most gave TCP/IP was its benign neglect as it spent its guidance, vision, leadership, and energy on developing the OSI network.
See also this, which makes the connection between government funding and private business innovation more clear and gives a lot of detail:
The internet indeed began as a typical government program, the ARPANET, designed to share mainframe computing power and to establish a secure military communications network.
Of course the designers could not have foreseen what the (commercial) internet has become. Still, this reality has important implications for how the internet works — and explains why there are so many roadblocks in the continued development of online technologies. It is only thanks to market participants that the internet became something other than a typical government program: inefficient, overcapitalized, and not directed toward socially useful purposes…
In other words, the internet would have been a pretty good example of the “it takes a village” approach that Obama was supposedly describing—the interface of government and private enterprise to create a whole, with each bringing its strengths and weaknesses into the mix. But instead he made it a case of the fruits of beneficent government effort being expropriated by private businesses to make their money.
In looking at Obama’s speech again, I got more curious not just about the internet, but about how roads and bridges are funded. Who might that “somebody else” might be who Obama says finances the highways and bridges for those businesses? I got this information:
About 70 percent of the construction and maintenance costs of Interstate Highways in the United States have been paid through user fees, primarily the fuel taxes collected by the federal, state, and local governments. To a much lesser extent they have been paid for by tolls collected on toll highways and bridges. The Highway Trust Fund, established by the Highway Revenue Act in 1956, prescribed a three-cent-per-gallon fuel tax, soon increased to 4.5 cents per gallon. In 1993, the tax was increased to 18.4 cents per gallon, where it remains as of 2012.
The rest of the costs of these highways are borne by general fund receipts, bond issues, designated property taxes, and other taxes. The federal contribution comes overwhelmingly from motor vehicle and fuel taxes (93.5 percent in 2007), and it makes up about 60 percent of the contributions by the states.
There’s also something called a Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax that applies “only on highway motor vehicles which have a taxable gross weight or combination weight of 55,000 pounds or more.”
I could go on and on for hours, I suppose, doing research in order to try to uncover what percentage of these fuel taxes and tolls and other taxes are paid by businesses. But if you just think about the proliferation of trucks on the roads it’s clear that successful businesses pay quite a bit of this cost. And if you consider who buys bond issues, it’s certainly not the poor, it would have to be the “successful,” or at least somewhat successful.
I know, I know; logic isn’t really the best approach to all of this, because Obama’s statements weren’t meant to appeal to logic, whatever he really was meaning to say. They were meant to appeal to those who feel resentment of others who are successful, or those who feel guilt about their own success. Come to think of it, many of his supporters probably fall into one or the other of those two categories.