There’s been plenty of criticism of President Barack Obama for his “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that” remarks in Roanoke, VA. Obama’s opponents have excoriated him for claiming that businesspeople didn’t make their own businesses, that government did it for them.
And there’s been plenty of people coming to Obama’s defense, pointing out that the term “that” in Obama’s remarks didn’t refer to the businesses people create, but to the “unbelievable American system” that makes the creation of businesses possible.
Look at Obama’s quote in context:
“[I]f you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. … 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 point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
I believe Obama’s defenders are correct, it’s clear that Obama is making a point about how individual initiative is part, but not the whole, of an individual’s success. To describe it otherwise is a distortion.
Obama, naturally, agrees, and has rebuked his opponents — including presumptive GOP presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney — for misrepresenting him:
“And frankly, the other side knows they can’t sell their ideas so what they’re going to do is try to distort my vision. Earlier today, Governor Romney was at it again — knowingly twisting my words around to suggest that I don’t value small businesses.”
But it’s here that Obama goes too far, and illustrates one of the fundamental problems with American politics.
While it’s fair for Obama to criticize people for “knowingly twisting” his comments, does he really want to say that this kind of behavior indicates that his opponents “can’t sell their ideas”?
After all, Obama himself has a history of distorting his opponents. Earlier this year, Obama’s campaign distorted Romney’s position on abortion, running an ad that accused Romney of wanting to outlaw all abortions, “even in case of rape and incest” (conveniently ignoring Romney’s 2011 statement that, “I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.”).
Obama’s campaign also distorted the views of several other GOP presidential contenders earlier this year by saying that, “Republican candidates for president Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich all say they would cut foreign aid to Israel — and every other country — to zero.” Of course, Romney, Perry, and Gingrich support no such thing, they only said that aid to foreign countries should start with a baseline of zero, not a baseline set by the amount spent in the prior year. Obama’s campaign — again, conveniently — left that out.
And it was about this time four years ago, in the 2008 presidential campaign, that Obama took this conversation involving GOP candidate Sen. John McCain:
Town hall participant: “President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years.”
McCain: “Maybe 100. We’ve been in South Korea — we’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me, as long as Americans are not being injured, or harmed, or wounded or killed.”
and turned it into:
“Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq, which is reason enough to not give him four years in the White House.”
“I revere and honor John McCain’s service to this country. … But when he embraces George Bush’s failed economic policies, when he says that he is willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq, then he represents the policies of yesterday.”
“[W]e are bogged down in a war that John McCain now suggests might go on for another 100 years”.
“What I said was I would have a strike force in the region … That’s very different from saying we’d have a permanent occupation in Iraq. And it’s certainly different from saying we would have a high level of combat troops inside Iraq for a decade or two decades or, as John McCain said, perhaps 100 years.”
Obama knowingly and consistently distorted McCain just as clearly as Romney & Co. distorted Obama. Did Obama do this in 2008 because he knew he couldn’t sell his ideas?
This is the way our politics functions, unfortunately: Each side distorts the other. And then each side is shocked — shocked! — that their words are being distorted, and insists that this is proof of how their opponents are devoid of ideas and integrity.
And then each side conveniently forgets that they’re guilty of exactly the same misbehavior that they find so horrifying in their opponents.
And then we elect them into office.