Friday, July 20, 2012

What Did He Mean?

The President is catching a lot of heat for his comment in Virginia last Friday that “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

What did he mean by this peculiar assertion?

He may have been stating the obvious, that no one lives in isolation from others, that we're all interdependent, but this is so trivial as to be banal. It'd be like telling a student who graduates magna cum laude that her accomplishment had little to do with her effort since she's not the one who built, equipped or administered the college which made her achievement possible. If this is what Mr. Obama meant then his statement was perhaps innocuous but profoundly dumb.

On the other hand, he could have meant that people who have a business, who are enjoying success, don't really deserve their success because they're just the fortunate beneficiaries of other people's labor, like a slacker who fortuitously inherits his grandfather's fortune. If this is what the President intended to say then his statement is insidious because it stirs up resentment of the haves among the have-nots by telling them in essence that what the haves have they don't really deserve, and that if you don't have it it's not because of any fault of your own, you're just not as lucky as the other guy. Abetting that sort of class envy is pernicious and destructive because it allows people to justify taking what people have worked hard to acquire and giving it to those who've done little. If this is what Mr. Obama was doing he's not the sort of man who should be in a position of national leadership.

The third possibility is that Mr. Obama simply and literally believes that no one who has built a business can claim to have been the one who built it, a possibility so exceedingly silly that it can doubtless be dismissed out of hand.

Whatever he meant, I'm sure he wishes he hadn't said it because none of these possible interpretations does much to burnish his reputation as a cerebral deep-thinker and because the Romney campaign has now released an ad which makes him appear completely out of touch with middle America:
I suspect that the second alternative above is the best explanation for Mr. Obama's statement in Virginia. It fits his view that, as he told Joe the Plumber in the 2008 campaign, we should redistribute wealth, and it dovetails with his recent decision to remove the Clinton work requirements for welfare recipients.

In any case, perhaps in the future the President's staff will be much more careful about letting him speak without a script. It won't do to have him giving voice to his true feelings in the middle of a campaign when voters are paying attention.