Lately right-wing pundits and the Romney campaign have been exercised about something said by Barack Obama in Virginia on Friday, specifically, the sentence highlighted below, which reads very different in isolation than it does in context:
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 point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for president — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.
You might not agree with me, but it seems pretty clear that the “that” Obama is talking about in the highlighted sentence is “this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.” In any case, his overall point is clear: Entrepreneurs build things, and more power to them, but in order for them to do it they need to live in a supportive society. That’s why there are so many more successful business people in the United States than in the Third World.
For more see this article at Talking Points Memo.