Over the course of the summer, the Romney campaign has been pulled into a number of sideshows by the Obama campaign: the controversy over whether he'll release his tax returns, his comments on his foreign trip, even his wife's love of horseback riding. But between now and the Republican convention, Romney should go from defense to offense. The way to do that? Keep returning to the most important thing the president has said so far.
That occurred on July 13, the day President Barack Obama campaigned in Roanoke, Va., and made a statement that has been shortened since then to "you didn't build that." The president says the quote was taken "out of context," that Republicans were "splicing and dicing" his words. Reasonable people can disagree, so let's take a look at what he said right after calling for higher taxes, taken from the White House transcript:
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. (Applause.) 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.
Whether you believe "you didn't build that" refers to small businesses or, as the president argues, to roads and bridges, what's undebatable is his dismissive tone. Obama disparages people who consider themselves hardworking or smart, and he is reluctant to give risk-takers credit for being self-made successes. Instead, he credits the government.
That day in July, I thought Obama's words would galvanize a certain portion of the electorate, namely small business owners like my cousin the pharmacist, a man who worked for over a year without a weekend off, spent countless hours complying with government paperwork, and took out a second mortgage to avoid laying off employees. When it comes to his pharmacy, he believes he did build that, and he did so in spite of the government.
But it's been weeks now and the president's comments are still hitting a raw nerve. An ad by Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown quotes former presidents from both parties praising Main Street business owners. Next we see the president speaking in Roanoke and a clip from Brown's liberal opponent, Elizabeth Warren, who was just given a prime speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention. Her attitude: "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. If you built a factory out there, good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for." That video has gone viral because it's so effective. The president quickly cut an ad trying to back away from it all.
But it was too late. A USA Today/Gallup poll taken after his Roanoke remarks showed that a record number of Americans, the highest percentage Gallup has seen since 1992, disagree with Obama's view of government activism. More than six in 10 respondents said the government "is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses." In many swing states, the Romney campaign is within striking distance of Obama, and for the third month in a row, Romney has raised tens of millions of dollars more than the Obama campaign. People don't like what they're hearing from the left, and the momentum has shifted in the race.
That's because there's a new American culture war growing, one that pits pro-government statists against proponents of free enterprise. It started when candidate Obama said in 2008, "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." Since then, it's been a constant stream of presidential rhetoric disdainful of anyone who has been financially successful.