Granted, it’s a stretch that Republicans built one-third of this week’s presentation around a single awkwardly worded sentence by President Barack Obama. Here’s the background: During a July 13 campaign appearance in Virginia, Obama told a crowd, “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. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
The Republican interpretation is that the president is discounting the work of entrepreneurs while glorifying the role of government. A little clever out-of-context editing and the president comes off as a dolt who sniffs at business owners, “you didn’t build that.”
Call this standard operating procedure for American politics, the sort of silly base-rallying meme that has a shelf life of about three days.
Only Republicans are keeping this one on life-support. The first night of the Republican convention saw a host of voices attempt to generate fresh outrage out of a single presidential utterance. In full exasperation, a New York Times editorial proclaimed, “Speaker after speaker alluded to the phrase in an entire day based on the thinnest of reeds — a poorly phrased remark by the president, deliberately taken out of context.”
One of the speakers delivering that message was Sher Valenzuela, a business owner from Delaware whose upholstery operation has benefited greatly from government — $2 million in Small Business Administration loans and $15 million in government contracts.
Alabama can offer a lesson to those puzzling over this contradiction that only sees a burden in the thing that is a major contributor to the nation’s prosperity. Alabama political types are adept at clinching a fist raised in anger at the federal government while awaiting the delivery of federal funds into the other hand.
Many a proud Alabama conservative walks around sputtering about “you didn’t build that” while depending on handouts from the federal government that have long propped up the state’s schools, roads and bridges, aid to the poor and public-safety efforts.
The savvy in Alabama see through the game. We know it’s nothing but empty rhetoric. The nation watching this week’s convention would be wise to do the same.