“You Didn’t Build That”



Every once in a while, Barack Obama lets something slip (e.g., during his previous presidential campaign, his comment to “Joe the Plumber” about redistributing the wealth and his dismissive remark to elite donors about how the common folk in western Pennsylvania “cling to their guns and religion”) that grants us a glimpse into his genuine core socio-political beliefs.


One of the clearest views offered by the current campaign has come with his now notorious “you didn’t build that” remark, made on 13 July in Roanoke, Virginia.


Here’s a heartfelt video response from a small businessman:




Several more such responses are available here:




And here’s some good commentary from Kim Strassel, at the Wall Street Journal:




Conservatives like myself are acutely aware that personal success relies on a complex network of values and habits inculcated by family and faith, on solid education, on a socio-economic and political system that permits it.  I wasn’t all that offended by Hilary Clinton’s famous book title, It Takes a Village, which is said to come from an African proverb declaring that “it takes a village to raise a child.”  That proverb seems to me true, in a sense.  My parents and my brother were crucial in my upbringing.  They played an incalculably huge role in making me, for good or for ill, what I am today.  And so too, to a lesser but still significant extent, did a wonderful scoutmaster, an inspiring high school German teacher, the elementary school psychologist who saw to it that I skipped a grade, a handful of influential university professors, a number of pivotal authors, some neighbors, and so on and so forth.


But it’s a giant and unjustifiable leap from acknowledging that “no man is an island, entire of himself,” to paying homage to The State as the author of all, most, or even a substantial portion of what I have and am.


I will not do so.


I am not a slave.


I am not a serf.


Mr. Obama is not my benevolent Great White Father, as presidents used to be portrayed to American Indians back in the eighteenth  and early nineteenth centuries.  (And, to forestall the obvious comment, neither is he my Great Black Father, or whatever, for the sake of strict accuracy, I would have to call him.)  Moreover, one has to say, to the extent that those early Indians trusted in the benevolent care of the Great White Father, look what it got them.


I’m a free man in a Republic.  Not a ward of The State.  Not a child to be decided for by a purportedly omnicompetent government  – which, anyway, hasn’t been doing such a good job with its own proper responsibilities that it should feel justified in attempting to relieve me of mine.



Addendum:  Some have claimed that, along with others, I’ve taken Mr. Obama’s words out of context.  But have a look at this and then try to tell me with a straight face that he wasn’t disrespecting those who’ve built successful businesses through hard work and ability.




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  • Cynthia L.

    Daniel, it sounds like you didn’t read the entire quote before writing this. How embarrassing for you!

    “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.”

    It sounds like he got tripped up with which teleprompter line he was on, and the “you didn’t build that” was supposed to be connected to the roads and bridges. But even if you uncharitably decide not to see it that way, in the whole context it is clear he’s saying the same thing you are–that you should thank you scoutmaster and your teacher. Only a true partisan could find that sentiment scandalous.

    By the by, what does this have to do with Mormonism? Oh wait–I got it!! Maybe it is an illustration/object of how misleading attacks on a leader can be when you willfully misread quotes and take them out of context, just like antis do to Mormon church leaders? Very clever!!

    • Quickmere Graham

      Wasn’t this (lame misrepresentation) of Obama old three or four news cycles ago?

  • danpeterson

    I don’t agree that it’s a lame misrepresentation, and I certainly don’t buy the notion that the greatest presidential orator in history, as he’s been described to me, tripped up on a teleprompter line. He’s far too experienced with teleprompters for that.

    And this blog has never solely been about Mormonism. Never.

  • Laszlo Kovacs

    Cynthia L.,

    I’m sorry, but where was there any attempt on Dr. Peterson’s part to connect this to Mormonism? Or is that your point? It seems to me he has been quite forthright about the fact that his blog posts range in subject–religion, art, travel, and yes, politics, as well. It’s fine if you disagree with his political views, but it strikes me as a little odd–particularly given all his other non-religious postings–to criticize the lack of Mormon commentary here. Just saying.

  • danpeterson

    I’ve added a link in justification of my perception that Mr. Obama was expressing his lack of respect for economic achievement in the free market. Very revealing, I think.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    It always irritates me when the Liberals try to censor their opponents. They can’t presentba reasoned argument, so they try to silence their adversaries.

    My response on hearing Mr. Obama’s extended remarksbeas, if it is government that has made some hard working, smart people rich, on what arbitrary and unconstitutional basis did they fail to do so for me? Following his thesis to its logical conclusion, if ALL people who are both smart and hard working are.not rich, it is solely due to a failure by government. For most of the last four years, that failure belongs to Mr. Obama’s government. Obviously, he is slacking off in his self proclaimed responsibility. He should resign, and let someone else who is more conscientious in creating millionaires take over the steering wheel.

  • Celso Skrabe

    If it is true that roads and bridges really build the American business, observing that the American companies are losing the market to the Japanese, Korean and Chinese companies, should I conclude that the reason is that they have better roads and bridges?

  • Quickmere Graham

    Here is a list of “very revealing” statements from Mitt Romney over the past months. They obviously reveal him to be an entitled, non-compassionate, elitist, robotman. I will ignore all counter evidence because I politically favor him as a candidate. I will not give that same consideration to my candidate’s opponent, but will interpret his words with added scrutiny that I simultaneously refuse to apply to my own candidate. I will not include a lame image I lifted from the internet suggesting that Romney is actually a robot, because comment sections do not allow image embedding:

    “Corporations are people, my friend.”
    “I like being able to fire people!”
    “I’m Not Concerned About The Very Poor.”
    “Rick, I’ll tell you what, 10,000 bucks, $10,000 bet?”
    “I’m not sure about these cookies, they don’t look like you made them. Did you make those? No, they came from the local 7-Eleven or whatever.”
    “[I don't follow NASCAR] as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.
    “I should tell my story. I’m also unemployed.”
    “[I] take a lot of credit for the fact that this [the auto] industry’s come back.”

  • Quickmere Graham

    PS- don’t bother trying to provide context for any of the above quotations, because I will simply dismiss them as special pleading, and I won’t “buy” your notions about them which try to read Romney charitably.

    • Kiwi57

      Thank you, Quickmere. Because I’ve looked into a couple of those Romney statements and find that the context rather tends to vitiate their usefulness. By contrast, I have read Mr Obama’s statement in context, and it clearly means just what his critics think it means.

      Calling it a “lame misrepresentation” clearly bears false witness against those who are quoting this statement.

      Besides, Mr Obama’s socialist credentials are impeccable. The Weather Underground was not exactly a right-wing organisation, was it?

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    “Corporations are people.” How often were we told during the past year that Apple is very much the reflection of the goals and standards of its late creator and recreator, Steve Jobs? The message of the movie, The Social Network, is that corporations reflect the personalities and frailties of those who create them. Corporations are tools that serve human interests, and are distinct from government in that they are totally voluntary affiliations, and are limited in the personal risk that can be imposed on their members. Governments do not give their members the opportunity to opt out of participation. Governments do many of the things that corporations do, including selling goods and services (security, protection against fire, mail delivery, medical services, educational financing). Like corporations, governments can borrow money, and buy and sell assets. Our society takesnit for granted that government entities can appropriately become involved in political debates on the same basis as individual citizens. Why should corporations be excluded, when they are more likely to represent the interests of their voluntary owners than governments do the opinions of their citizens?

    • Fred Kratz

      A corporation is a legal entity, composed of people, created by charter. It is artificial, invisible, intangible and exists because the laws of a nation give it legal status. It can remain on paper even though the people have left it. It can be dissolved and the people remain. A corporation is not people and not all corporations serve the public interest. Sheesh!

  • Quickmere Graham

    I don’t buy it, Raymond.

  • danpeterson

    If corporations aren’t people, I’m at a loss to know exactly what they might be instead.

    Poems, perhaps? Marsupials? Supernovae? Quadrilaterals? Dish washers? Cheeseburgers?

    Take away the people, and there’s nothing left behind called a “corporation.”

  • Stephen Smoot

    I am a card-carrying Democrat who voted for Obama in the last election. I tend to have liberal leanings on a number of political issues. However, I have since become very disappointed in many of Obama’s policy decisions. I have serious misgivings about voting for him again this November, and I am more and more inclined not to do so. I also do believe that one can justifiably criticize him on a number of issues. But I also believe in trying to be fair, even with those whom I may disagree with, and trying to use this “gaffe” of Obama’s as a political club is just silly. Really, it reeks of desperation, as the ever affable Jon Stewart pointed out on his show this week:
    (Part 1): http://www.hulu.com/watch/384429#s-p2-sr-i1
    (Part 2): http://www.hulu.com/watch/384430#s-p2-sr-i1
    There are legitimate issues that we can debate a discuss in terms of policy and politics. But I hope that we can get past this mentality of picking out random (and often mis-contextualized) sound-bites from politicians and hammering them into meaningless issues that distract from the real problems that we need to address. Both parties are guilty of this dirty trick, and it needs to stop.

  • danpeterson

    Sheesh back at you, Fred.

    A corporation — like a chain gang, a basketball team, an army division, a retail staff, a religious denomination, a paramedic unit, a square dancing club, and a farmers’ coop — is a group of people, organized in a particular way for a particular purpose.

    And I said nothing whatsoever, of course, to suggest that corporations always or inevitably serve the public interest.

    • Fred Kratz

      Legally and structurally they aren’t even close. And there are types: C, close, domestic, dummy, foreign, municipal, nonprofit, non-stock, parent, private, professional, public, S, shell, sister, and subsidiary. Corporations do not require people in them. They are a legal entity with distinct privileges and liabilities. When was the last time you bought stock in a chain gang, basketball team or army division? Or went to a dancing club with no people in it?

      • danpeterson

        Forest and trees.

        • Fred Kratz


          • danpeterson

            There. I’ve let you have the final word.

  • danpeterson

    I continue to think that his “you didn’t build that” comment offers a window into Mr. Obama’s real attitude toward both achievers and business.

    I like Michael Walsh’s observation about the grammar of Mr. Obama’s remark:


    • Quickmere Graham

      I continue to think Mr. Romney’s remarks offer a window into the likelihood of Mr. Romney being a tin-eared robot from NoTaxRichistan.

      “Corporations are people, my friend.”
      “I like being able to fire people!”
      “I’m Not Concerned About The Very Poor.”
      “Rick, I’ll tell you what, 10,000 bucks, $10,000 bet?”
      “I’m not sure about these cookies, they don’t look like you made them. Did you make those? No, they came from the local 7-Eleven or whatever.”
      “[I don't follow NASCAR] as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.
      “I should tell my story. I’m also unemployed.”
      “[I] take a lot of credit for the fact that this [the auto] industry’s come back.”

      • Fred Kratz

        I listened to Robert Millet, Dean of Religious Education at BYU speak at a religious conference in Florida. He admitted that he would like Mr. Romney speak more about how his faith has shaped him and what he has done within it to assist those in need. He also mentioned that Mr. Romney would not go into a theological discussion of his faith. Fine.

        I would appreciate more interviews like the one given to Piers Morgan. I’m sick of sound bite journalism and those trying to interpret for the electorate what was likely meant by a one liner or how one statement or error should give us the totality of the candidate. Mitt Romney should appear on a program like Charlie Rose or other suitable venue where he can speak at length about issues. I’d like some insight into Mr. Romney the human.

        I’m looking forward to the Presidential debates.

  • Michael

    It’s funny watching liberal/progressive reactions to Mr. Obama’s gaffes. They get soooo touchy! They just can’t seem to accept that Mr. Obama sometimes trips on his Superman cape.

  • http://www.timesandseasons.org Kent Larsen

    “to paying homage to The State as the author of all, most, or even a substantial portion of what I have and am.”

    Please, SOMEONE, show me WHERE Obama said anything like that.

    You actually seem to agree with Obama’s point when you said that you “are acutely aware that personal success relies on a complex network of values and habits inculcated by family and faith, on solid education, on a socio-economic and political system that permits it.”

    The problem with this whole debate is that conservatives seem to have taken his statement as MORE than what he actually said, and then criticized him for what they have imputed to his statements.

    The real issue here is on both sides — no one can have the charity to read what the candidates are actually trying to say, and instead are seeking to make political hay by twisting what was said into something that sounds wrong.

    How many times have you ALREADY complained that Democrats did this to Romney?

    Get over it. Its not actually important. He didn’t mean what you claim he did.

    • danpeterson

      Of COURSE he didn’t say precisely that. But it’s simply implausible to say that the thrust of his remarks wasn’t statist — as John O’Sullivan’s analysis makes quite apparent:


      • Quickmere Graham

        So your complaint is that you believe Obama believes the government has a role to play in the well-being of society at large to a degree which you feel is too high. And to register your complaint you take a comment out of context and add a silly graphic. OK.