Back in campaign 2008, Joe the Plumber was just one guy. This time around, Mitt Romney campaign is organizing an army small business owners in battleground states to speak out against President Obama’s comment that if you own a small business, “you didn’t build that” without some government help along the way. Today, the campaign is holding 24 “We Did Build This” rallies in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Nevada “to allow small business owners the chance to respond to President Obama’s claim that “if you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
I was traveling with the Obama campaign on that swing down the Virginia coast when he made the comments in Roanoke, Va, and at the time his words struck me as a strikingly watered-down version of Massachusetts senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s fiery and combative speech about “the social contract” that went viral a few months ago (starts at 0:51):
Yet Obama’s remarks have been received by his critics as an insulting attack on business nonetheless — and the backlash seems to have staying power. (Romney has already made a campaign ad out of the remarks — “These Hands” — though the star of the ad, it turned out, in the past received tax-exempt bonds and government contracts.)
Here is what Obama said in Roanoke, VA on July 13:
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 GI 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
Update: Just noticed this story reporting that Warren’s opponent, Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, is also connecting the Obama comments back to Warren.