Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"You Didn't Build That" - On Your Own

The theme of the Republican National Convention is "We Built This."  This is a critique of an off-the-cuff remark the President Obama made:  "If you've got a business, you didn't build that." They have repeated the audio clip several times during the convention.

President Obama's phrasing is unfortunate.  If he had completed the thought - "If you've got a business, you didn't build that on your own" - this whole kerfuffle would never have arisen.  The rest of the president's statement makes clear his intent.

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.
 I believe this is obviously true.

In watching the convention, it is clear that both sides perceive the world differently.  One side sees the achievements of your life as almost entirely your own work.  The other side sees the mountain of work done by other people - including other people working through the government, but also much, much more - that makes my achievement possible.  The president gave a few examples, which could be multiplied almost infinitely.  And if you believe, as I and most Americans do, that God created the entire universe and still actively superintends it, then the realm of "I built this on my own" shrinks to a tiny fraction of my achievements, indeed.

The major insight that sociology brings to this problem is that privilege creates a whole ladder of unearned benefits that help us "build it."  And the greatest privilege is not realizing that you are privileged.  If you are, for example, a white man in America, from a rich, powerful family, who went to a leading prep school and the fanciest graduate school, you have a huge leg up - even if you then use that privilege to build up a successful business.

Hard work and responsibility are good things which we should honor and assist. But few indeed build anything, no matter how smart and hardworking they are, by themselves.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

It sounds bad when he says this because people perceive him as anti business.

gruntled said...

Agreed. That is why I think we all have a duty to find the context of seemingly wrong-headed statements, to see if they make more sense as intended.

I also think we have a duty, when we understand what was meant in context, not to deliberately perpetuate the erroneous impression.

Anonymous said...

When will you start exposing Democrat lies against Republicans or don't the Democrats tell lies?

gruntled said...

I don't think "We Built This" is a lie. I do think it is built on a deliberate over-emphasis on a tiny error. I also think the point they are trying to make is more wrong than right.

As to Democratic lies, I am as opposed to them as to any other lies. What do you have in mind?

Anonymous said...

Maybe you can come up with some examples...you are the centrist after all.

gruntled said...

The only Obama statement that is rated on the current front page of Politifact is an Obama ad that said Ryan "tried to change the whole game" for Social Security.

This is Politifact's assessment of that ad:

"So are the Democrats correct that Paul Ryan tried to "change the whole game" of Social Security? It depends on how you’re scoring.

He did indeed propose a sweeping change to Social Security in 2004 and several times since. But we find it’s not quite true that he "changed the whole game." Even at its most ambitious, his plan did not affect people who were older than 55 and, for younger workers, the plans were voluntary and allowed workers to stay within the traditional Social Security system."

earl said...

Obama lied about Gitmo. The prison is still open...

ea said...

Fact check sites, left or right are biased...and so pretty much useless.

gruntled said...

The President's inability to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay is my chief disappointment with his administration. I do not think he lied, though; rather, he was unable to keep a promise. Apparently the prisoners were so ill-treated, and held on such flimsy evidence by the Bush administration, that there is no way to prosecute them.

I remain hopeful that he will spend the political capital to close Gitmo early in his second term.

gruntled said...

Fact check sites present their evidence, allowing us to judge whether they are correct or not. Several of them are very good, especially Politifact, which won an Pulitzer Prize for its very necessary labors.

earl said...

Are the Pulitzer people unbiased? Surely you don't think they are? I don't mind bias, it's just the those who think they have no biases that are so irritating...

gruntled said...

There are two different issues here.

Bias is one. No organization is utterly free of bias, nor any person - including thee and me. Given that, the Pulitzer committee is not notably biased in giving its award.

The other issue, though, is that the best fact-checking organizations show the evidence that they used to check the facts. This lets us make our own judgment.

The facts of the Obama administration's strenuous attempts to close the Guantanamo prison are on the record.

Anonymous said...

It was within his power close Gitmo, he didn't. Why do liberals get so much credit for trying hard, meaning well,all the while making things worse?

earl said...

Who is fact checking the fact checkers?

gruntled said...

Readers. The other fact checkers. Do you have a specific reason to reject Politifact's analyses?

earl said...

http://www.humanevents.com/2012/08/30/politifact-bias-does-the-gop-tell-nine-times-more-lies-than-left-really/

This links gives examples of Politfact biases..

earl said...

Fact checkers are starting to check gray areas and things that people never said...think they may have jumped the shark. But don't check me on that.

gruntled said...

Earl:

That is a helpful article about Politifact. I did not know it had changed ownership.

I agree with Cassidy's overall assessment: "There are plenty of other supporters of PolitiFact’s journalism, which is often nuanced and provides enough information to reach a contrary opinion. It’s hard to find anybody who likes the Truth-O-Meter. It takes something that’s perfectly defensible, arguing politics, and it turns it into something ugly, a tool for slander."

earl said...

Politics ain't beanbag.

earl said...


http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/obama-lies-while-accusing-romney-campaign-lying_651431.html.


Another Obama lie...

gruntled said...

I sent that last one to Politifact.

earl said...

You intrigue me...

Mac said...

Beau: Got to this one a little late--death in the family last week. I was going to comment, but the comment was too long. It appears at Around the Scuttlebutt under today's date.

Mac