TAMPA, Fla. — The quote may be taken out of context, distorted and misleadingly edited to absurd extremes, but the Republican convention’s Tuesday night proceedings could not reference “You didn’t build that” enough.
The official theme of the day’s convention proceedings are “We Built It,” and that line was driven home endlessly and in every format imaginable: it was captured in song; speakers repeated it; and videos played up the line to maximum effect, each adding their own twist along the way.
Actress Janine Turner took the spiritual route: “President Obama, I’m here to tell ya, the government didn’t build it — God and the American people built it!”
Country singer Lane Turner took the musical route, playing his surprisingly catchy protest song “I Built It” to the crowd’s roaring delight. Sample lyric: “I built it with my own hardworking hands / I built it, no help from Uncle Sam.”
Delaware lieutenant governor candidate Sher Valenzuela took the hypocritical route: She referenced the line in her speech despite giving a detailed presentation in May on how to enrich yourself by scoring government funding. Sample line: “The sad truth is that tens of thousands of [government] contracts go unfulfilled every year … because businesses like yours never learn how, or never bother to apply!”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus took the “lemonade stand” route.
“He thinks that if you started a business, ‘You didn’t build that,’” Priebus said in his speech. “Well, how would he know? President Obama’s never run a company. He hasn’t even run a garage sale or seen the inside of a lemonade stand.”
It proved a popular route. “President Obama has never even run a lemonade stand -= and it shows,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said in her speech.
Undercutting every iteration: the deceptive route. As they’ve done in the past, the RNC featured several videos wildly distorting using misleading editing the Obama speech that birthed the line, which actually referred to government building infrastructure that helped entrepreneurs. Clips played at the event deliberately spliced together several sentences from the speech to make it sound like one continuous passage, cutting out lines in which Obama made clear the “that” in “You didn’t build that” referred to roads and bridges — not businesses themselves.
That fact did nothing to quiet the drumbeat of punchlines. But the actual transcript, which shows that his speech bears virtually no relationship to the attacks of Tuesday evening, bears repeating:
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.
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.