Thursday, October 8, 2015

Who Built What?

The "you didn't build that" comment from President Obama is being ginned up into a national campaign issue as the Romney camp holds 24 events in 12 states.

Who Built What?


The President's recent comment about the importance of government providing public services and infrastructure to help small businesses, including his unfortunate use of the phrase, "you didn't build that," is now a national campaign "issue" because national campaigns tend to get silly.

The Romney camp is holding 24 events in 12 states, including Pennsylvania, that feature small business owners seeking to rebut Obama with a "we DID build this" message.

Small business owners and GOP leaders were having press conferences Wednesday at the Capitol in Harrisburg (featuring Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith) and at the Cambria County Courthouse in Ebensburg (featuring GOP state chairman Rob Gleason).

Meanwhile, the Obama camp is running countering TV ads in many of the same states.

On one hand, it's a nice political tact for the GOP to help Romney distract attention from the already-distracting issue of releasing more of his tax returns.

On the other hand, it's a clear example of taking a phrase out of context and coating it with a meaning that never was intended.

Obama, campaigning in Virginia July 13, said, "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help … 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."

Once the Romney folks pounced, Obama came back with a charge that was Romney was “splicing and dicing” his words.

He said, “I believe with all my heart that it is the drive and the ingenuity of Americans who start businesses that lead to their success. I always have and I always will."

His defense continued Tuesday in Seattle.

Nice try, but the worm of "you didn't build that" already infected his overall message. So much so that when Sen. Bob Casey, an Obama ally, was asked what he thought of the president's comments and responded by saying that one reason folks are successful is that "they work hard," the Romney campaign issued a statement saying Casey "rebuked" Obama.

This is a case of both sides stretching stuff to make their points: Obama, pro-government because government needs to support basic services, roads and bridges, etc., that help everyone; Romney, pro-business because business builds America and government holds business back and ought to get out of the way.

The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between in some combination. But this campaign is fast turning into a war -- and truth, as they say, is always the first casualty of war.

Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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