If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. - Barack Obama
Team Obama is complaining that this quote was taken out of context and that he was referring to roads and bridges. Here is a more complete excerpt:
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.
That doesn't help a lot. He is still saying that you owe your business to the American system. When he uses the word "that" does he mean your business (the normal understanding), roads and bridges (in which case he should have said "them") or the American system? This is in line with the rest of the speech.
Here is the full speech.
"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn't -- look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
"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 G.I. 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."
Let's deconstruct it.
He starts by asserting that there are wealthy people who feel that they have not paid enough in taxes. The government already has a place for people to send donations above their tax liabilities. Almost no one uses this. What Obama means is that he knows wealthy people who want to see other wealthy people pay a higher tax rate.
Then he launches into an attack on successful people. He says that you didn't succeed because you are smart or worked hard. You succeeded because of the government. He ends with a list of great works and a call for collective action.
The Golden Gate Bridge is an ironic example. The federal government fought it as did the unions and the railroads. It was built by local government with no federal assistance. It was paid for through construction bonds which were mainly sold to the Bank of America. The bonds were paid off with tolls. In all, this bridge is a very poor justification for raising taxes on the rich nation-wide.
The rest of his "great works" argument has major flaws, also. It is an echo of the USSR when they showed off public works to show the superiority of communism. That was the purpose of the space race. This also shows the weakness of the great works argument. The Russians were the first to orbit the earth but people in Moscow couldn't buy bread or toilet paper.
This reflects Obama's background as a Marxist. According to his autobiography, he was a hard-core Marxist in high school and college. He may have left Marxism behind but it still influences his thinking.