A pair of four-word phrases are proving unshakable for the Obama campaign.
The first is a line Obama actually spoke last month in Virginia: “You didn’t build that.” The second is the implication in a new advertisement by Obama’s super PAC that attacks Mitt Romney’s corporate past: Romney killed a lady.
Taken together, they reflect the president’s apparent belief that the good things as well as the bad things in our lives — success and failure, joy and tragedy, growth and death — are the products of forces beyond our control that only government can bring to heel. Unless you’re rich, in which case you didn’t do the good things in your life, just the bad things in others’.
“You didn’t build that” has been making the rounds for weeks now. The full line — “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that” — came amid a laundry list of ways in which, according to Obama, the successful should play down their own success. It wasn’t because you were smart or hard-working; Obama said “a lot of smart people,” a “whole bunch of hard-working people” weren’t so rewarded. Chalk it up to “a great teacher … this unbelievable American system … roads and bridges … government research [that] created the Internet.”
In short: “Somebody else made that happen.”
The speech resonated with the public, but not the way Obama intended. It resonated negatively, and not because successful people don’t acknowledge those who helped them along the way. Of course they do.
It resonated negatively because Obama focused exclusively on the collective. No acknowledgments of the ways successful people differentiate themselves, much less the government-imposed obstacles many of them overcome. Just a brief nod to “individual initiative” while bowing to the greater number of things “we do … together.”
It resonated negatively with a public that has become accustomed to hearing Obama talk about success almost always in the passive voice: It happens to people “who’ve been most fortunate” and who “have been incredibly blessed.” By, one can only guess, “somebody else.”
The attack on Romney is fresher. It arose in a video ad by Obama’s super PAC, in which a man who once worked for a company bought by Romney’s Bain Capital essentially blames Romney for his wife’s death from cancer.
The man, Joe Soptic, worked for GST Steel in Kansas City, which Bain bought in 1993. In 1999, Romney left Bain. In 2001, GST Steel closed its doors and Soptic lost his job and his health insurance. “A short time ater that,” Soptic says in the video, his wife was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. She died within weeks.
It’s a tragic story, but the ad omits a few details. First, that Soptic’s wife still had a job and health insurance until 2002 or 2003. Second, that her diagnosis and death were in 2006, five years after Soptic lost his job.
Amazingly, the ad isn’t even an attempt to justify Obamacare. It’s just a crude attempt to put blood on Romney’s hands.
Although an Obama spokeswoman initially denied knowing Soptic’s story, claiming the campaign is insulated from the super PAC, a recording of a conference call from this spring reveals the very same spokeswoman talking with Soptic about his story. The Obama campaign has also run its own ad with Soptic, depicting him wearing the very same shirt (see photos on left).
But maybe we shouldn’t blame her or the campaign for that little fib. After all, in Obama’s America, only the super-successful could be responsible for something bad. Somebody else, I’m sure, made that happen.
– By Kyle Wingfield