Turns out, as James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal reveals this morning, President Obama didn’t build the “You didn’t build that” line.
Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senatorial candidate, has also used the line. But she didn’t build it either. Blogger William Jacobson unearthed what Taranto calls the ur-text of “You didn’t build that.”
Here is a quote from one of the foundational documents of "You didn't build that":
There is no such thing as a self-made man. Every businessman has used the vast American infrastructure, which the taxpayers paid for, to make his money. He did not make his money alone. He used taxpayer infrastructure. He got rich on what other taxpayers had paid for: the banking system, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and the judicial system, where nine-tenths of cases involve corporate law.
These taxpayer investments support companies and wealthy investors. There are no self-made men! The wealthy have gotten rich using what previous taxpayers have paid for. They owe the taxpayers of this country a great deal and should be paying it back.
You’ll notice that that sounds very much like what the president said (but is now saying that he didn’t say). It is taken from George Lakoff, a progressive linguist at Berkeley. Lakoff, like Warren originally, was one of the academics who embraced the Occupy Movement, as, indeed, did President Obama. Warren and Lakoff have also claimed to have had laid some of the theoretical foundations of the Occupy movement (to the extent that it was something more than anarchists and others milling around in anger and squalor).
Lakoff developed a linguistic narrative that progressives needed to counter conservatives by focusing on the role of government in enabling individual success, a narrative in which no person became successful on his or her own:
Nobody makes a dollar in this country in business without using the common wealth…. The idea that there’s a self-made man, that’s there’s a self-made millionaire is false, it is absolutely false, and that is the thing that Obama missed…. Without this you don’t have those roads, you don’t have that internet, you don’t have the banking system, etc.
So President Obama isn’t being taken out of context. There is a great deal of progressive theory and strategy behind what the president said and both he and Warren are familiar with these ideas. These theories provide a justification for raising taxes on the self-made millionaires who, in Warren's and the president's view, are not responsible for their own achievements.
The words reflect what the president believes. If you watch the clips, you realize that he was speaking from the heart. Of course, he didn’t mean to say it.