Republican candidates at the Wednesday, July 18 Whatcom County Tea Party forum joined in on the widespread criticism of a quote from President Barack Obama that is being interpreted as belittling the contributions of American business people.
The Obama quote that is getting all the attention runs like this: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Republicans are interpreting this comment to mean, “You did little or nothing to build your own business,” which would certainly be an absurd thing for the President to say.
John Swapp, business owner and Republican challenger to State Sen. Kevin Ranker in the 40th District, observed: “I didn’t have any help from the government. The government was in my way most of the time.”
To me, Obama’s comment makes a bit more sense when you see it in context. Here’s a longer excerpt reported by the Washington Post:
“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. ( emphasis added.) Somebody else made that happen.”
Not one of Obama’s more eloquent moments, to be sure. But when you look at the offending sentence, it doesn’t sound as silly. It looks like ”You didn’t build that” is supposed to mean, “The government, not you, built the roads and bridges that enable your business to exist.”
Swapp, at least, seemed aware of the full context.
“Yeah, I drive over a lot of roads and bridges, but so do a lot of people,” he said. He went on to observe that the business owners generate more than their share of the tax revenues that build those roads and bridges.
Matt Krogh, Democratic challenger to State Rep. Vincent Buys in the 42nd District, also referred to the wider context of Obama’s remark, attributing his own success in life to public school teachers as well as roads and bridges.
“The success that I have in life I owe to a lot of other people and I’m glad of it,” Krogh said.