Mitt Romney continued his attack on President Obama for recent remarks suggesting public investments help build businesses Wednesday, then all but admitted he agreed with Obama’s underlying point.
Romney, speaking in Ohio, said Obama’s speech last week “reveals what he thinks about our country, about our people, about free enterprise, about freedom, about individual initiative.”
“I just want to say it exactly as he said it,” Romney said. “Speaking about small business and businesses of all kind, he said this: ‘If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.’”
Romney conveniently ignored the sentences immediately before and after Obama’s quote, which made clear the president’s line referred to building public infrastructure like roads, bridges and the Internet that businesses utilize to their benefit. But Romney didn’t stop there: As he tried to twist the knife on Obama, he essentially made the president’s argument for him.
After exhorting business owners to stand up and be recognized, Romney said:
I know that you recognize a lot of people help you in a business. Perhaps the banks, the investors. There’s no question your mom and dad, your school teachers, the people that provide roads, the fire, the police. A lot of people help. But let me ask you this, did you build your business? If you did, raise your hand. Take that, Mr. President.
Here’s how Obama described the relationship between “the people that provide roads, the fire, the police” and business owners in that speech Romney cited:
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.
In short, Romney: Yes, “a lot of people” help business owners, among them government, but in the end, “you build your business.” Obama: “We succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
The lack of distinction helps explain why the Romney campaign has aggressively tried to limit Obama’s remarks to just a single cherry-picked sentence, even releasing video with the “you didn’t build that” line on loop, devoid of any context. Without the misleading idea that Obama was telling business owners they don’t deserve any credit for their success, it’s just two guys touting the benefits of the federal highway system.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.