Mitt Romney's 'You Didn't Build That' Hypocrisy

Mitt Romney is taking President Obama's comments out of context to spin him as antibusiness.


The upside of the Internet and other technology for candidates is that they can easily truncate, excise, and otherwise distort comments made by their opponents to make the speakers look ridiculous. The downside is that it's also pretty easy for the scorned opponent to find examples of rank hypocrisy by the original accuser.

Republicans are hammering President Barack Obama for what they charge is the horror of being antibusiness. Setting aside the backdrop—big business still failing to hire despite record profits and big banks still rebuilding their brands after reckless behavior that nearly sent us into a second great depression—the charge is silly. But it's also based on a comment taken wildly out of context, in which Obama said of business owners, "you didn't build that." The entire quote—which doesn't include big words and is not even that long—indicates something far different and not at all hostile:

Look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own.… 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.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

This is a welcome reminder to the egomaniacs of the county that while hard work and smarts are usually necessary for success, they aren't enough. Teachers and professors guide us; parents support us. Federal student aid and loans help us pay for college. Companies get government loans and tax breaks. That includes Gilchrist Metal, a New Hampshire firm presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney highlights in an anti-Obama ad. The owner of the firm, in the ad, appears shocked that the president doesn't think his family is responsible for building the company. But as the Manchester Union-Leader's stellar, veteran political writer John DiStaso reports, Gilchrist Metal benefited from $800,000 in tax-exempt New Hampshire revenue bonds, not to mention government contracts. Oops.

NBC, meanwhile, unearths another contradiction, one in which Romney—who has been touting his leadership in the Salt Lake City Olympics as an example of his Mr. Fix-It credentials—suggested to Olympic athletes that they, too, owe their success in part to the support of others:

You Olympians, however, know you didn't get here solely on your own power. For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers encouraged your hopes … Coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We've already cheered the Olympians, let's also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities…

[ See Photos of preparations for the London 2012 Olympics.]

The heart of Romney's argument against Obama isn't even really about an alleged antibusiness sentiment (one that looks even more ridiculous when one adds up all the campaign contributions the Obama campaign has received from various business interests and executives). It's about spinning a canard that government involvement of any kind is somehow dangerous or destructive. It's about the stunningly self-centered idea that we are all metaphorical islands able to manufacture or grow anything without outside help or materials. Businesses understandably don't want to be regulated and don't like paying taxes. But that doesn't mean that's a reasonable expectation, especially since the behavior of businesses—be it polluting the water or providing needed jobs—affects the community at large. And it's a little hypocritical to reject obligations to the community while accepting its help in the form of loans and other aid.

And both candidates, of course, have extensive support systems as well. Obama got elected with a message and agenda that appealed to a majority of Americans in 2008, but he had legions of volunteers and low-paid staff and donors who helped him get there. If Romney beats Obama this year, he'll owe that victory to a lot of other people as well—from the billionaire super PAC donors to the volunteers who operate phone banks and get people to the polls.

None of us succeeds entirely on his or her own. And if former Governor Romney becomes President Romney, he'll be no exception.