The “We Did Build This” brigades


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.


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The “We Did Build This” brigades

  1. This is such a new and stunning idea in the US…..that normally likes to portray business as being full of tough, hard, daring, swashbuckling shirtsleeves-types….that it will take awhile to sink in.

    • Like Halliburton? How much did they make off government procurement?

      • Well like Major-General Butler said in 1935, ‘war is a racket’

        It was always all about making the world safe for Amerian businesses…..but the average American is soooo gullible….

        • You would think they’d wonder what all those lobbyists get paid for…

          • ‘Muricans are too busy being outraged over Janet Jackson’s nipple

  2. Americans are fortunate because they are having first principles election – does business owner build successful business or did government/society – while here in Canada we get not much of anything.

    Obama and his ‘you didn’t build that’ comment illustrate why Obama is a socialist. Government only has money to do things because of successful business people and the people they employee.

    Government is a parasite that does not contribute to commonweal while businesses pay corporate taxes, employees pay income taxes and have $$$ in their pockets to buy things to pay sales taxes.

      • Tony never actually reads the thread articles, he just posts the same comment over and over again.

      • “Did you build that computer all by yourself?”

        Milton Friedman ~ Introduction to I, Pencil:

        Leonard Read’s delightful story, “I, Pencil,” has become a classic, and deservedly so. I know of no other piece of literature that so succinctly, persuasively, and effectively illustrates the meaning of both Adam Smith’s invisible hand—the possibility of cooperation without coercion—and Friedrich Hayek’s emphasis on the importance of dispersed knowledge and the role of the price system in communicating information that “will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do.”

        “It is even more astounding that the pencil was ever produced. No one sitting in a central office gave orders to these thousands of people. No military police enforced the orders that were not given. These people live in many lands, speak different languages, practice different religions, may even hate one another—yet none of these differences prevented them from cooperating to produce a pencil. How did it happen? Adam Smith gave us the answer two hundred years ago.”

          • Strange comment from a guy who can’t spell.

          • So, no answer, except abuse. Very rational of you.

          • You say “You cant even think for yourself” and then you accuse others of abuse for responding to that comment? You are a bizarre individual. Get yourself a mirror and look into it.

        • Another repeat comment…..yes, that was his theory…..except we’re a long way from 1958, and Mr Reads failed business. He ended as a cheerleader for Libertarians and Ayn Rand….until she denounced Libertarians. LOL

          He left out a few things in his pencil story…..who built the roads, who trained the workers, who built the machines…..

          Of course it helps that you can exploit countries around the world to get the materials to make a pencil….something requiring a military…

          In fact…..computers are now made elsewhere….the parts in them are made all over the world….not in the US.

          Manufacturing…..which you’re promoting….has moved elsewhere.

          Stop living in 1776

        • Now we have to import our pencils from a country with a government who owns the means of production.

      • Why is it that you fail to make the distinction between the free market and the government?

          • Saying it twice doesn’t make it any less dumb.

          • Because you don’t know the answer?

          • An appropriate response to the query would preclude you from having to refer to the question as “dumb’. An effective reply to a question will do that for you, just as avoidance of a question gives said question some credibility, deserved or otherwise. Your move. Or, non-move, as such.

          • It was dumb. I provided a counter-question to illustrate why. When he refused to acknowledge the counter-question, and just repeated himself, I went ahead and characterized it as “dumb”, since of course I had already pointed out why it was dumb. It is clear from my original response why his question is dumb.

            Perhaps you failed to realize that he repeated himself for no particular reason, because you fail to acknowledge I had already provided a response to the question.

            I suppose I could have used the word “unintelligent”. But really, “dumb” is not an insult. It’s certainly critical, but there is a distinction between critical and insulting, although the politically correct sometimes fail to understand that, and characterize anything critical as insulting. The words “stupid”, “idiotic”, “inane”, and many others are insults, although I suppose that could be debatable. “Dumb” is not an insult. It was a dumb question.

            It was also a rhetorical question, yet despite that, he seems to be insisting on an answer, which is equally dumb. If he were to insist it was not rhetorical, then I would be dumbfounded to believe he did not know if computers were built by just one person. It cannot possibly be literal, therefore it must be rhetorical; I would not go so far to claim that he could truly be quite so dumb that he does not know the answer. So it must be rhetorical, yet he wants an answer anyway. That is also dumb.

          • You assume I’m trying to outwit you. Clearly that is impossible.

          • I’m not assuming anything.

          • You seem defensive. You seem angry. Curiously, for someone who holds a strongly partisan position, it seems very difficult for you to answer a simple binary question.

    • PJ O’Rourke~ “Who the hell is Tony Adams?”

  3. “Yet Obama’s remarks have been received by his critics as an insulting attack on business nonetheless”

    Warren’s comments were just as much an insulting attack on business. Hearing those comments come from the president rather than an uber-Liberal from Massachusetts was worse, however.

    • Obama probably should have said “…you didn’t build that alone.” But he did clarify two sentences later when he said “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

      Do you consider that to be an insulting attack on business?

      • Now they consider him insulting because he’s not ‘anglo-saxon’

        Well at least they finally said it out loud.

        Of course neither are Italians or Danes or Irish…….

        • I know Warren claims to be Cherokee, but she’s an anglo-saxon. Regardless, it does not matter. I find her comments insulting regardless of whether she’s anglo-saxon, Cherokee, or an alien from outer space.

          • Warren said nothing about anglo-saxon…..Romney did.

            And Warren is repeating what Obama…..and most others have said about business. There is no such thing as a self-made man.

          • Romney said nothing about anglo-saxons. Are you on drugs?

          • It might help if you kept up with the news, rather than worrying about me.

          • Yes, he did.

          • Technically, I think that anglo-saxon line came from the campaign, not Romney’s own lips.

      • Yes, because it is. When I succeed in business, it has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with the guy who lives next door. It has nothing to do with the guy across the street. It has nothing to do with the Canadian government. It has nothing to do with the PM. It has nothing to do with the conservative party. It has nothing to do with the public service. And it has nothing to do with this magazine.

        Same goes when I fail in business.

        • Have you ever started a business? Did you provide all your own capital?

          Did you ignore programs (at all levels of government) designed to foster new businesses? Did you refuse advice from experienced friends and family? Did you ignore the Internet, public roads and the post office? How about telephone lines that were initially built under a government-enforced monopoly? Public power generation and distribution?

          Etc etc etc.

          • He did not say: “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our
            individual initiative, but also because we do things with our business partners and families.”

            He said:
            “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our
            individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

            You are attempting to change the meaning of what he said.

            “We do things together” is very clear.

            It’s clear what he said, despite your attempts to obfuscate what he said. He was quite clear.

            There’s also a blatant difference between what we use, and what we credit for our success. When I succeed in business, or when I fail in business, it has nothing to do with the post office and the internet. Successful businesses existed before the internet and the post office. Not only that, what distinguishes a successful business from a failure, or from a business that was never created, is not the post office and the internet. I also don’t credit the light bulbs in my office or the door knob on the door for my success and failure in business.

          • Funny, I don’t think I was attempting to obfuscate or change the meaning of the quote. Obama specifically referred to power generation, the Internet and fire fighting as shared public services that fundamentally enable business.

            His point, of course, is that the fantasy of the Randian Superman is simply a fantasy. Business finds success in a stable society with the support of public services, public R&D, fiscal policy that supports business, etc.

            The “we” in “we do things together” is government, society at large and individuals who support private initiative. This is hardly a piercing or controversial insight, in fact it’s utterly obvious.

          • In fact, it’s SO obvious that there are multiple video clips of Mitt Romney out on the campaign trail making the EXACT SAME POINT.

      • Obama probably should have said “…you didn’t build that alone.”

        Actually, he probably should have said “you didn’t build those alone”, as in context it’s pretty clear that he was talking about infrastructure like roads and bridges.

        What’s even funnier is all of the clips emerging of Romney on the campaign trail making essentially the EXACT SAME SPEECH, but without the grammatical slip-up.

  4. Politics … particularly the over-exposed US variant … is just so sad …

  5. The reason this has legs is because it actually does reflect what Obama’s policies take for granted: namely that government is what drives the economy, not individuals taking risks and showing initiative. See “Stimulus”, and “Jobs created or saved” for reference.

  6. Would it be so terrible to quote the preceding lines of the speech as well? If anything they make it sound even more ridiculous.

  7. My favourite part of this story is all of the clips now emerging of Romney on the campaign trail making basically the EXACT SAME SPEECH, only without the grammatical slip-up. His speech during the Olympics in Salt Lake is pretty funny in this context too. As Lewis Black said on the Daily Show, apparently building a business is something that one does completely without support from anyone or anything external to oneself, but running a four minute mile takes a village, lol.

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