Commentary: Who Built What?
We are now fully into the silly season in both news and politics, something that commonly happens in late summer and in this point in campaigns, especially perhaps presidential election campaigns.
You know you are in wacky time when a headline says, “Congressman Benishek did not swim in Galilee, spokesperson says.“ If there is anything surprising about this year, it is that we haven’t had any new claims about Jimmy Hoffa, at least not yet, though police say a man in suburban Detroit did shoot his neighbor last week for yelling at his dogs to stop barking. The good news is that the neighbor was only hit once, and is expected to live.
In politics, this is the time when claims begin to get more outlandish, and facts become more and more distorted. Leave aside the Missouri U.S. Senate candidate who claimed women usually couldn’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape.”
That stupidity is way off the charts. No, in the presidential campaign, the chief contender for distorted speech this year is President Obama’s apparent outrageous insult to business owners everywhere. Indeed, the President did say this line during a campaign stop in Virginia last month:
“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Ever since that, the Republicans have been all over Obama, some saying this is clear proof that he is the socialist they always thought he was. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been using that statement to attack the President every day.
Republicans have been airing commercials showing small business owners calling this an outrageous insult, and so forth.
Well, a man from Michigan did attempt last week to restore a little perspective to all this, James Roumell was born in Detroit in nineteen sixty-one, and grew up so poor he sometimes ate breakfast cereal for dinner. He’s worked hard all his life. Today, he lives in fashionable Chevy Chase, Maryland, and owns an asset management firm he built from scratch that has $300 million dollars in assets. What does he think of the claim that he didn’t do it on his own?
In a column in the Washington Post Roumell totally agrees with the President. “I went to college with the help of Pell Grants and government loans,” he wrote. “My business has been made possible by … laws (that) created practices and transparency that enabled a financial services industry to emerge.”
Nobody does anything completely on their own, he says, which is what the President was actually saying in Virginia. In fact, if you read the whole speech, his somewhat clumsy phrase “you didn’t build that” is clearly referring to the previous line, “somebody invested in roads and bridges,” after which Obama added, “the point is, when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.” That puts all this in a very different context. But don’t expect the Republicans to admit that.
That’s not how politics works. Incidentally, Business Week the other day quoted this statement: “You Olympians know you didn’t get here solely on your own power.” Who made that initiative-disparaging remark? Ah …Mitt Romney, speaking to athletes ten years ago.
I can hardly wait to see what next week’s rhetoric will bring.