July 31 2012
Why “You Didn’t Build That” Won’t Go Away
President Obama’s self-revealing “You didn’t build that” speech in Roanoke, Va., is turning out to be the gift that keeps on giving.
The speech was delivered July 13, and the New York Timeslast week dubbed it “the campaign story that will not go away.” There are several reasons why this story won’t—and must not—go away.
Reason number one is that this is the first time that President Obama has revealed for public consumption a foundational tenet of his economic theory. The Obama administration has a history of being cagy. For example, we think we know why White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to answer a question as to whether the administration regards Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last week. We have our suspicions. But we can’t be sure. No one will say.
With the Roanoke speech, the public at large can for the first time know with absolute certainty what the president thinks about those who succeed in business. Rather than being the engine of job creation, business mooches, in the president’s worldview. The disdain in Mr. Likeability’s voice and demeanor was palpable—and not very likeable.
This isn’t some anecdote dredged up from the president’s twenties, something uttered behind closed doors at a posh San Francisco fundraiser, something we ourselves can never hear, or an impromptu response to an importunate plumber. This is what the president believes, and for once he flat out said it. Thanks for sharing, Mr. President.
Moreover, these words, offensive to those who have worked to build family businesses, didn’t come out of thin air—rather than being the verbal meanderings of a tired man without his teleprompter, these words reflect a particular point of view that has wide currency on the far left.
William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection located one of the sources of this attack on the self-made man or woman (and that is what this is) in the works of Berkeley linguist George Lakoff. “There is no such thing as a self-made man,” Jacobson quoted from Lakoff. “Every businessman has used the vast American infrastructure, which the taxpayers paid for, to make his money. He did not make his money alone.”
This is very much what the president was saying in Roanoke. President Obama’s ally Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senatorial candidate and darling of the far left, also has said pretty much the same thing. President Obama, who like Warren and Lakoff has spoken fondly of the anarchistic Occupy Movement, spoke his own truth in a moment of off-scripted candor in Roanoke. These were not errant words, but words of sincere belief.
The Obama campaign’s response shows that they recognize the potentially politically grave consequences of the president’s moment of self-revelation. Among other things, the campaign is vociferously claiming in an ad that the president never said any such thing (commendably bold, when you consider that the entire speech is easily available on the internet).
Showing just how devastating the president’s words potentially are to a second term, Jonathan Chait resorted to the all-purpose liberal shut up: it is racist to criticize President Obama’s anti-business tirade. Chait wrote about the speech and the reaction in New York magazine:
The key thing is that Obama is angry, and he’s talking not in his normal voice but in a “black dialect.” This strikes at the core of Obama’s entire political identity: a soft-spoken, reasonable African-American with a Kansas accent. From the moment he stepped onto the national stage, Obama’s deepest political fear was being seen as a “traditional” black politician, one who was demanding redistribution from white America on behalf of his fellow African-Americans.
Senator John McCain most likely would have been buffaloed by the racist ruse. The “You didn’t build that” speech would have been declared off limits. Romney, whose campaign drove veteran politician Newt Gingrich crazy, probably won’t. Indeed, the Chait claim that talk about the Roanoke speech is racist may mark the official moment at which the racism charge jumped the shark. Chait’s ludicrous column is provoking more mirth than the usual fear and trembling at the prospect of being (unfairly) dubbed a racist.
There will come a moment in the presidential debates when Mitt Romney and the president can go head to head on the meaning of Roanoke. I hope Romney is practicing for this great opportunity. I would suggest that, when the president says his words were twisted, or that Romney took them out of context, Romney give viewers a website where they can listen to the whole speech. This can’t be delivered in the usual go-to-my website toss-off of a politician who can’t be bothered to tell you himself. It has to be done just right to convey the idea that the Roanoke speech is the key to decoding President Obama.
If you know that this is what the president believes, the rest falls in place: his incessant calls for higher taxation on “millionaires and billionaires,” the stagnation of business in the U.S. under Obama, and, most of all, the 8.2 unemployment rate.