Mitt Romney seems aware he has relied on an extremely misleading snippet of a speech by President Obama — his campaign has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide its original context. A new video using Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line deceptively chops up and fuses together portions from the same speech to create a Frankenstein monster that radically distorts the president’s intended meaning.
As the Washington Post notes, Romney’s latest web video stitches together lines from an Obama speech in Virginia last week to make it appear as if they are one continuous passage.
This is how Obama’s speech is presented in Romney’s version:
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 ‘cause 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. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
Here’s Obama’s own speech. Note the sentences immediately preceding and following “you didn’t build that,” in which the president explicitly tells the audience he’s talking about roads, bridges, the Internet and other public infrastructure investments that are all but universally considered a boon to the private sector. The sentences cut out of Romney’s ad are in bold.
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.
The Romney campaign has gone out of its way to obscure that missing context, without which there’s no way to properly evaluate Obama’s comments. Sometimes it can border on absurd: When the campaign released video of Obama’s remarks, it used a single sentence on loop rather than include even a few seconds more of his speech that might undermine its attack.
Selective editing has been a recurring issue for the campaign. In March, a Romney ad arranged footage of Obama quoting an aide to John McCain to make it appear as if they were the president’s own words, earning a heap of scorn. Romney has also been a victim of the practice: few, if any, Democratic attacks on his “I like being able to fire people” line noted that it was about being able to choose a health care provider.
Meanwhile, Romney has made a virtually identical point on the trail, even as he attacked Obama for saying the same thing: “There’s no question your mom and dad, your school teachers, the people that provide roads, the fire, the police,” help business owners, Romney said on Wednesday. “A lot of people help. But let me ask you this, did you build your business?
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.