I really despise when politicians refuse to understand the point of the opponent. It isn’t merely an inability to respect a different perspective because it may be so foreign or opposed to some long-held point of view that gets me. No, it’s when someone expresses a point in clumsy language and the other side pounces, being an absolute bitch about actually listening to the real point. Take, for example, when Mitt Romney said he wasn’t concerned about poor people. Of course he cares about them. He just happens to believe that they currently have a relatively adequate safety net, a net which can be improved (and made unnecessary in many lives) via certain economic policies. (That isn’t to say he really understands them, nor that his policies would actually work, but I do not think he is quite as callous as his original comment might suggest.) Or, even worse, look at John Kerry’s treatment a few years ago. He tried to say that we’re stuck in Iraq because Bush is dumb. The way it came out, though, made it sound like he thinks soldiers are stupid. It was an absurd distraction that was dishonest to its core. I hated every second of it and I think it’s terrible that he had to apologize at all.
Fast forward to the present campaign season and we have the President saying this:
If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.
Whoa! Holy smokes, Batman! The President of the United States just said that small business owners – especially mom and pop shops that have been in the neighborhood for 43 years, giving out free meals to needy orphans and puppies every Thanksgiving – deserve zero credit. Zero. Rumor has it that once off camera, he even went so far as to grab the head of a struggling business owner, pull the guy’s face right up to his ass, and fart. I bet he laughed and laughed. Communist.
Oh…wait. I guess there’s more to the quote:
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.
Oh, snap. Shitty, amirite conservatives? I guess what the President meant was that everyone has had help from others at one point or another. He then gave teachers as one example. Then he says that somebody helped to create the system in which businesses thrive. Then he uses roads and bridges as an example of what has helped businesses thrive. Next we have the big doozie of the whole thing: He says that businesses – gasp! – didn’t build our roads and bridges. For the reading impaired, let me reword the President’s sentences in a way which conveys the exact same meaning with a little more clarity:
Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build that.
Or how about this?
Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build that stuff.
Or maybe this?
Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build those.
Okay, here we go:
Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and if you have a business, you didn’t build those roads and bridges I just mentioned. In fact, the transcript of my speech should be written with a semi-colon so as to show what I am saying about businesses not building roads and bridges. For example, “Somebody invested in roads and bridges; if you have a business, you didn’t build that.”
And despite all this context, there’s even more to the speech:
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.
Nothing the President has said is remotely remarkable here. He was simply making the point that everyone needs help in life, and a lot of that help comes from government-funded programs, works, etc. Most teachers are paid by the government. Most bridges are built by acts of Congress and state legislatures. That isn’t to say that businesses deserve zero credit. He outright says that one of the reasons businesses see success is individual initiative. That just isn’t the only reason they see success, is all. But hey, I know how to end this argument with one simple question:
Did Wal-Mart build the Interstate it uses to truck its goods around the country? No? Argument over.