On the evidence of last week's Republican campaign events, President Obama's instant classic – "You didn't build that" – is to Mitt Romney what that radioactive arachnid is to Spider-Man: It got under his skin, and, in an instant, the geeky stiff was transformed into a muscular Captain Capitalism swinging through the streets and deftly squirting his webbing all over Community-Organizerman. Rattled by the reborn Romney, the Obama campaign launched an attack on Romney's attack on Obama's attack on American business. First they showed Romney quoting Obama:
"He said, 'If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.'" And then the Obama team moved in for the kill: "The only problem? That's not what he said."
Indeed. What Obama actually said was:
"If you've got a business, you, you didn't build that. [Interjection by fawning supporters: "Yeeaaaaah!"] "Somebody else made that happen."
Since the president is widely agreed to be "the smartest guy ever to become president" (Michael Beschloss, presidential historian), the problem can't be "what he said" but that you dummies aren't smart enough to get the point he was trying to make. According to Slate's David Weigel, the "you didn't build that" bit referred back to something he'd said earlier in the speech – "somebody invested in roads and bridges." You didn't build those, did you? Or maybe he was referring back to "this unbelievable American system we have that allowed you to thrive." You didn't build the system, did you? Or maybe he was referring to the teleprompter. You didn't build that, did you? Well, unless you're Rajiv or Suresh from the teleprompter factory in Bangalore, you didn't. Maybe he was referring back to something he said in a totally different speech – the Berlin Wall one, perhaps. You didn't build that, did you? Who are we to say which of these highly nuanced interpretations of the presidential text is correct?
If this is the best all the King's horses and all the King's men can do to put Humpty Dumpty's silver-tongued oratory together again, they might as well cut to the chase and argue that accurately quoting President Obama is racist. The obvious interpretation sticks because it fits with the reality of the last three-and-a-half years – that America's chief executive is a man entirely ignorant of business who presides over an administration profoundly hostile to it.
But, just for the record, I did "invest in roads and bridges," and so did you. In fact, every dime in those roads and bridges comes from taxpayers, because government doesn't have any money except for what it takes from the citizenry. And the more successful you are, the more you pay for those roads and bridges.
So here's a breaking-news alert for President Nuance: We small-government guys are in favor of roads. Hard as it may be to credit, roads predated Big Government.
Which came first, the chicken crossing the road or the Egg Regulatory Agency? That's an easy one: Halfway through the first millennium B.C., the nomadic Yuezhi of Central Asia had well-traveled trading routes for getting nephrite jade from the Tarim Basin to their customers at the Chinese court, more than 2,500 miles away. On the other hand, the Yuezhi did not have a federal contraceptive mandate or a Bloombergian enforcement regime for carbonated beverages at concession stands at the rest area two days out of Khotan, so that probably explains why they're not in the G7 today.
In Obama's world, businessmen build nothing, whereas government are the hardest hard-hats on the planet. So, in his "You didn't build that" speech, he invoked, yet again, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. "When we invested in the Hoover Dam or the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Internet, sending a man to the moon – all those things benefited everybody. And so that's the vision that I want to carry forward."
He certainly carries it forward from one dam speech to another. He was doing his Hoover Dam shtick only last month, and I pointed out that there seemed to be a certain inconsistency between his enthusiasm for federal dam-building and the definitive administration pronouncement on the subject, by Deanna Archuleta, his Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, in a speech to Democratic environmentalists in Nevada:
"You will never see another federal dam."
Ever. So the president can carry forward his "vision," but it apparently has no more real-world application than the visions he enjoyed as a member of his high school "choom gang" back in Hawaii. Incidentally, I was interested to learn from David Maraniss' enlightening new biography that, during car-chooming sessions, young Barry insisted all the windows be rolled up so that no marijuana smoke would escape. If you can seriously envision President Obama opening a 21st century Hoover Dam, you need to lower the windows on your Chevy Volt.