You Didn’t Build That: Does context really matter?

If you’ve been following the presidential race, then you’ve no doubt heard what President Barack Obama said over the weekend during a campaign stop in Roanoke, Virginia. In promoting his plan to raise taxes on higher-income earners, Obama said, “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.”

As you can imagine, those comments been met with outrage, and rightfully so. They’re incredibly disrespectful to hardworking business owners, many of whom have sacrificed everything to live the American Dream. The Wall Street Journal slammed President Obama’s “burst of ideological candor”:

The Internet is awash with images of the President telling the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and other innovators they didn’t build that. Kevin Costner’s famous line in “Field of Dreams,” as adapted for Mr. Obama: “If you build it, we’ll still say you didn’t really build it.”

Beneath the satire is the serious point that Mr. Obama’s homily is the soul of his campaign message. The President who says he wants to be transformational may be succeeding—and subordinating to government the individual enterprise and risk-taking that underlies prosperity. The question is whether this is the America that most Americans want to build.

With the political ramifications of Obama’s comments being pointed out, we’ve now found ourselves in a debate over context, though that doesn’t make the comments any better, as Philip Klein explains. Tim Cavanaugh also notes:

There is no nebulousness here. Beyond the paragraph quoted above, Obama calls government spending “the investments that grow our economy.” He ridicules the tendency of Americans to brag about being hard workers with a variant of “So’s your old man.” (“Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.”) He instinctively names “a great teacher” when looking for somebody to credit for causing success in the working world. The president has boldly presented his view on how an economy works. His supporters should give him the respect of taking his words seriously.

And while Obama is defending government “investment,” let’s remember that government has no money of its own. It makes these investments only through taxing Americans. Without the hardwork and ingenuity of business owners, government wouldn’t exist. And whatever spending the government does is already largely financed off of the backs of the top 20% of income earners, who pay 69% of all income taxes.

This may be anathema to the Left, which seems to view government as some sort of omnipotent entity that grants its citizens rights and views all income earned by everyone as its own. The government just allows us to keep a percentage. Isn’t that nice?

This is where there is a fundamental difference between those of us that believe in the free market and statists really shines through. We believe that free enterprise, individualism, and rational self-interest are the key virtues of a thriving and prosperous society. Statists loathe these things. In their minds, government is the virtue. Your income and liberties are to be sacrificed at the alter of the state when ever they deem it necessary for the common good. Don’t you ever question them. And if you do, it’s because you’re ungrateful, selfish, and un-American.

So yeah, folks, let’s keep talking about Bain Capital, off-shoring or whatever else arises between now and election. Nevermind that American is being fundamentally transformed by a president who has no clue of what it takes to start a business and keep it going. Move along, there’s nothing to see here.

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