by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
While TIME columnist Joe Klein agrees President Obama’s recent “you didn’t build that” comment has been taken out context, Klein’s latest column makes clear that the comments don’t look much better given the proper context.
The third ad, and the most effective, stars Dennis Sollmann, who owns an electrical-construction company. It begins with some embarrassing, if heavily edited, sound bites from Obama’s famous “You didn’t build that” speech. “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own,” the President says, adding that he’s “struck” by successful people who say “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.” And then, after some editing, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” Enter Sollmann, with a chuckle: “I mean, I’m thinking, You’ve got to be kidding me. He was trying to say, ‘Hey, you didn’t build that business on your own. The government helped you build it.’ And that’s what ticked me off more than anything.”
t is now well known that the “you didn’t build that” part of the quote was taken out of context. Obama was talking about infrastructure: “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.” In Sollmann’s case, the observation is entirely apt: his business has been bolstered with the help of local government contracts. But Obama’s earlier words are a real problem. Most small-business people succeed because they are smarter than their competitors, because they really do work harder. The President seems to dismiss these defining American traits, which is incredibly foolish, an arrogant echo of his “You’re likable enough” swipe at Hillary Clinton in a 2008 debate.