Surprise! Obama’s “You didn’t build that” statement didn’t hurt him at all with voters!

Remember the big fuss among Republicans this past summer over certain remarks President Obama made in an extemporaneous speech in Roanoke, Va.?

Obama was making the point that success in life usually is due to a combination of individual initiative and help from others.

He said:

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…

Suddenly, a big fuss, led by Fox News, arose over the passage where the president said: “Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.”

The president’s point was pretty clear when his remarks were read in full context. He was saying that if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build the roads and bridges that might benefit that business. Somebody else made that happen, just as somebody else helped create our American system in which you can thrive.

The whole point of the speech was that success in business often depends on the efforts of other people and society in general as well as on the efforts of the individual.

But the right-wing media and Republicans in general, ever eager to make Obama look bad, took two of his sentences out of context to create a false impression. They isolated just one part of his remarks: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen.” They said he was telling successful folks that “you didn’t build” your business. What he actually said was that “you didn’t build” the roads and bridges.

Anyway, for much of the next month, Republicans ran wild with their distortion of what Obama said. They even made it the theme of one entire day at their convention and mentioned it in virtually every speech over the three days of the gathering in Tampa.

They were so all-fired sure that this so-called gaffe would hurt the president in the polls and greatly diminish his re-election chances.

Funny thing, however: It didn’t work out that way. The polls never reflected any impact on this score. By mid-September, the matter was pretty much forgotten (except among the die-hards on the political right).

But wait! Now the Wall Street Journal (not exactly a left-wing rag) is out with a poll showing that the remarks at issue actually might even have helped Obama at least a little.

The poll put the matter to respondents thusly:

Barack Obama recently said that if you have been successful, you did not get there on your own. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create the American system that allowed you to thrive. He said if you have a business, you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen. When we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. Does this make you feel more positive or more negative about Barack Obama, does it not make much difference in your opinion or do you not know enough about this to have an opinion at this time?

Thirty-six percent of respondents said it made them feel more positive about Obama. Thirty-two percent said it made them feel more negative, and 26 percent said it made no difference. The rest didn’t know about the matter.

The poll also put this issue to respondents:

Mitt Romney recently said forty seven percent (47%) of people will vote for President Obama no matter what because they are dependent upon government, believe they are victims, and believe the government has a responsibility to care for them. He said his message of low taxes does not connect with the forty-seven percent (47%) of Americans who pay no income taxes so his job is not to worry about those people as he will never convince them they should take personal responsibility for their lives. Does this make you feel more positive or more negative about Mitt Romney, does it not make much difference in your opinion or do you not know enough about this to have an opinion at this time?

Forty-five percent said it made them feel more negative about Romney, while 23 percent chose the more positive option, and 24 percent said it didn’t make a difference.

Controversies like these don’t always work out the way some people expect, do they?

UPDATE: Steve Benen has more on this matter HERE.

UPDATE II: And there’s THIS, too.





  1. danimal

    Surely that’s reflective from the revision statements from the left pundits, the same ones who broadcast those poll numbers too. His statement were arrogant and insulting none the less. He down played the discipline and the spirit of the entrepreneur. It sure is easy to sit your ass behind a computer and wave your finger Pat when you your self risked nothing. I dare you to walk into any industrial park in Rockford and ask the proprietor if they agree with Obama’s views on “You Didn’t Build That”

  2. danimal has it right.

    The polling was directed at voters and was intended to detail how the comments impacted Obama’s bid for re-election. A poll of small business owners and entrepreneurs (you know, the people who actually create jobs) might look a bit different.

    Obama may have been speaking to his base with his class warfare rhetoric but not so much to the people he actually would need to really turn the economy around.

    Good politics, bad leadership.

    But we know what’s more important in Washington these days, now don’t we?

  3. You would think that False News and their ilk might get tired of shooting themselves in the foot but no they have to give something back to the gullibles who tune in 24/7 by tweaking every word and sentence that can be contrued as controversial.

  4. danimal and expdoc think small-business owners aren’t susceptible to the crapola peddled by Fox News in this matter.

    danimal even implies that a poll commissoned by the conservative Wall Street Journal is the work of “left pundits.”

    The two of them are just so disappointed that the distortion of Obama’s remarks didn’t have any impact outside the right-wing noise machine.

  5. Does “their ilk” include all of the media that chases stupid hoax stories about Romney?

  6. By the way, danimal, who do you think built the infrastrucure that benefits the small businesses to which you refer? Did Fox News build that stuff?

  7. Luke Fredrickson

    doc, did government investment contribute anything to the success of your medical practice? Or did your medical group build the building(s), roads, sewers, power lines, etc. all with their own money?

    You wingnuts understood exactly what Obama meant, and know he is right. The government invests in the infrastructure that allows individual businesses to thrive. It is called the common good.

    Any self-respecting politician should acknowledge the same. There is a very important role for good governance in the maintenance of a growing market economy. Gettin “out of the way” is not the solution.

  8. I am not disappointed in the poll results.

    I will be disappointed if Obama is re-elected.

    I certainly do care what small business owners and entrepeneurs think about their ability to succeed under any future administration.

    Unless you think communal ownership of all property and business is the optimal economic model, you should care as well.

  9. doc: “Communal ownership of all property and business”?

    Nobody’s advocating that, and only a right-wing extremist would attribute any such scheme to Obama (which seems to be your implication).

  10. Luke,

    Of course some level of government involvement in our lives is required. It is all a matter of degree.

    Does the government contribute to the success of my practice? They are involved whether I like it or not and since I am successful by any measure I will give them some credit. Just like a good running back thanks his offensive line when he has a great game or a great season. But without a running back a great offensive line gains zero yards. Someone has to carry the ball and take the risk of getting hurt.

    You left wingnuts think the answer to everything is more government. That is why you see people like the “free Obama phone” woman who truly believes her very happiness depends on who is in charge of government.

    As I stated on a different post last week, I would much rather have a cadre of people who were willing to work hard, take risks and not depend on government than a group who was fully dependent on government for their very happiness from cradle to grave. You should want that too. Someone needs to make the money, to pay the taxes to let government do anything at all.

  11. Pat,

    I didn’t say that, you did. My point to you is the same one I made to Luke.

    We all should be celebrating success, rewarding risk takers and entrepeneurs. We need them and so does the government.

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