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August 14, 2012

Obama's "you didn't build that" Absurdity

I know I'm late to the party on this, but I just saw this article which quotes the president at length and explains perfectly why the president is so wrong-headed.

Obama's defenders make numerous excuses, mostly that he was taken out of context or that he meant something other than what conservatives say he meant. The problem with the former is that the context makes what he said worse, not better. The problem with the latter is that it's contradicted by the plain meaning of what he said. Here is just an excerpt of Yuval Levin's piece, but read the whole thing:

The Hollow Republic
By Yuval Levin
August 6, 2012

President Obama must surely wish he could undo the campaign speech he delivered in Roanoke, Va., on July 13. That was where he offered up the view that "if you've got a business, you didn't build that, somebody else made that happen." It is a line that could haunt him right to November, revealing as it does an unwillingness to credit success and a hostility toward the culture of entrepreneurship. But the remark came in the context of a broader argument that was just as telling on a different point, and no less troubling.

After laying out his plans to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, the president said this to his audience:

You know, there are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me, because they want to give something back. They know they didn't -- look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, Well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. 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

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.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, "You know what, there's some things we do better together." That's how we funded the GI Bill, that's how we created the middle class. That's how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That's how we invented the Internet, that's how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that's the reason I'm running for president, because I still believe in that idea: You're not on your own, we're in this together.

This remarkable window into the president's thinking shows us not only a man chilly toward the potential of individual initiative, and not only a man deluded about the nature of his opponents and their views, but also (and perhaps most important) a man with a staggeringly thin idea of common action in American life.

The president simply equates doing things together with doing things through government. He sees the citizen and the state, and nothing in between -- and thus sees every political question as a choice between radical individualism and a federal program.

But most of life is lived somewhere between those two extremes, and American life in particular has given rise to unprecedented human flourishing because we have allowed the institutions that occupy the middle ground -- the family, civil society, and the private economy -- to thrive in relative freedom. Obama's remarks in Virginia shed a bright light on his attitude toward that middle ground, and in that light a great deal of what his administration has done in this three and a half years suddenly grows clearer and more coherent, and even more disconcerting.

Again and again, the administration has sought to hollow out the space between the individual and the state. Its approach to the private economy has involved pursuing consolidation in key industries -- privileging a few major players that are to be treated essentially as public utilities, while locking out competition from smaller or newer firms. This both ensures the cooperation of the large players and makes the economy more manageable and orderly. And it leaves no one pursuing ends that are not the government's ends. This has been the essence of the administration's policies toward automakers, health insurers, banks, hospitals, and many others.

It is an attitude that takes the wealth-creation capacity of our economy for granted, treats the chaotic churning and endless combat of competing firms (which in fact is the source of that capacity) as a dangerous distraction from essential public goals, and considers the business world to be parasitic on society -- benefiting from the infrastructure and resources provided by the genuine common action of the state. Of course, the state's benevolence is made possible precisely by the nation's wealthiest citizens, but the president seems to see that as simply an appropriate degree of "giving something back." His words and his administration's actions imply that he views the government as the only genuine tribune of public desires, and therefore seeks to harness the private economy to the purposes and goals of those in power.

And to deal directly with Obama's "you didn't build that" crap, Mitt Romney has the perfect one-liner response:

"When a young person makes the honor roll, I know he took a school bus to get to the school, but I don't give the bus driver credit for the honor roll,"


Beyond the philosophical absurdity of his "you didn't build that line, is that his reason for using it is an excuse to hike taxes. It's all part of his extortion scheme; plan ball or or I'll destroy you.

Senator Scott Brown went after his non-Indian opponent, Elizabeth Warren, who said something similar to Obama the other day, and he nailed it on the head:

My opponent says that no one succeeded on their own. She points to roads and bridges and government services we all use. But to downplay individual initiative as nothing more than a byproduct of big government is to fundamentally misunderstand our free enterprise system, and it is a backward view of who we are as Americans.

Government services don't distinguish success from failure. However, they are a convenient excuse for politicians to take undue credit for the success that you create.

Professor Warren's twisted logic dictates that because businesspeople like you take advantage of government services, then you owe "a hunk" of their success back to the government in the form of higher taxes. Forget about the rather large "hunk" they already pay.

This philosophy is a dangerous one, and it turns the American Idea on its head. Because once you accept the premise that government is responsible for success, there is no limit to what you can justify taking because there is no restraining principle that says, "that is not mine to take." That so-called "hunk" will get bigger and bigger.

In 2009 I wrote about the left's war on charities, and it looks like I was onto something. These folks would actually be happy if religious institutions like the Catholic Church were forced to close their hospitals and charitable institutions. All the better, in their view, because then the government could step in and take over.

Ditto with everything else. Part of the attack on the Boy Scouts is over their common-sense refusal to accept gay scoutmasters. But what I think really grates is just their insistence on remaining independent from politically-correct leftist thought, and for that they are to be punished. The HHS mandate that has caused such an uproar is only the tip of the iceberg.

What they want is to create a situation where there is no escape from their mandates. In their ideal state, individuals will not be able to get out from under their mandates. You will not be allowed to be without health insurance, and you will be made to pay for it. You will be forced to subsidize abortion. Your private organization will be made to obey all manner of offensive rules.

Brave New World, here we come.

Posted by Tom at August 14, 2012 9:00 PM

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This comment was originally left as "anonymouse, but it is from the same IP address as "RWNutjob," so I updated the comment to reflect that fact

Absurd pretty much sums up your interpretation of the point the President was trying to make. "You didn't build that" was in reference to the common public infrastructure, both human and built, that we all pay for with our taxes; things that the private sector can't or won't do on its own, that are essential for our society to grow and provide more opportunity for more citizens. We can, and do, have arguments all the time about what constitutes "essential", and about the levels of spending on particular areas, but I don't understand how you, or anybody else, can quarrel with the basic point the President was making. Neil Armstrong wouldn't have walked on the moon without the massive, socialistic spending on the space program. That program was vital to our economy and our nation in many ways, of course, but one could argue that while it helped create millions of white collar jobs in the suburbs and sunbelt of our country, it did little to nothing to help lift inner city, lower income Americans out of the poverty cycle. I'm not saying we shouldn't have spent the money on the space program, but it's an example of how government, elected by the people, makes choices all the time about which sectors of our economy benefit from our tax dollars. In this era, when the Republicans have managed to convince a large part of a low-information electorate that all we have to do to fix our problems is keep lowering taxes, the President was simply trying to add a dose of reality to the conversation...to remind people that, for the most part, the taxes we pay are necessary and beneficial to the continued prosperity of our country, and not the evil slide towards communism that your side makes it out to be.

Posted by: RWNutjob at August 26, 2012 11:15 AM

Hmmm. It would seem you didn't read the post before commenting. Try again.

Posted by: Tom the Redhunter at August 26, 2012 9:45 PM

Your whole post was based on a complete and willful misinterpretation of what the President said. That's about all that needs to be said about it, because it's a work of fiction! How can you guys argue that a return to the Clinton era tax rates is somehow a radical, European-style, socialistic move on Obama's part? A small tax increase on income over $250,000, combined with sensible spending cuts and the eventual healthcare costs savings that Obamacare will generate, in other words, the balanced approach that Obama and Democrats have put forward, may not be your cup of tea, but I think most Americans will see through your Republican lies and give the President another term to finish cleaning up the mess you guys left behind.

Posted by: Rw Nutbag at August 28, 2012 5:20 PM

Ok, you're obviously illiterate. So sad.

Posted by: The Redhunter Author Profile Page at August 29, 2012 10:38 PM

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