Mitt Romney has seized on Barack Obama's out-of-context quote, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that," but whether the full exonerates the President or not is what the election is all about. Yes, it's cynical to put a selectively edit video snippet at the heart of a presidential campaign. And Romney is: the campaign is holding 24 events in 12 swing states Wednesday to highlight the line, ABC News reports. But just as Romney's unreleased tax returns are about more than his tax returns -- they're about how we should divide the tax burden among different income groups -- the fight over Obama comment is about more than whether this was some kind of Freudian business-hating slip. It's about whether the government is needed to solve problems (as Democrats think) or whether individuals left to their own devices (as the Tea Party-infused Republcians think) would make the world a better place. That's why, writing in The Weekly Standard, John McCormack argued the full-context makes Obama's argument worse: "Just because businessesmen and businesswomen, like all Americans, benefit from public infrastructure, it does not follow that businesses must pay an even greater amount of taxes to fund a $2 trillion national health care program."
Here's the full Obama quote:
"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."
When Obama said "you didn't build that," the that refers to infrastructure, not businesses. And the Obama campaign released a 3-minute video Tuesday that makes that point. Spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter says that Romney is taking Obama out of context, and after detailing the candidates competing policies, Cutter says, "You and I know how [the economy] works: We build our businesses with hard work and initiative, with the public and private sectors working together to create a climate that helps us grow." But Republicans don't agree. Especially not Tea Party Republicans.
Picking up the opportunity to advance the libertarian-ish argument, the RNC released an ad Tuesday called, "These Aren't Gaffes." On Wednesday it added another, "The More Context You Get, The Worse It Sounds." Romney repeated that argument on CNBC Monday night, saying, "The context is worse than the quote." He continued,
And by the way, we pay for government. Government doesn't come free. The people who begin enterprises, the people who work in enterprises, they're the ones paying for government. So his whole philosophy is an upside-down philosophy that does not comport with the American experience.
Just like McCormack, Romney suggests businesses have already paid plenty of money for roads and schools and whatever, and don't need to pay any more.
But this is an unusual election year fight, at least outside the Republican primary. While the slash-the-government agenda is very popular argument among the Tea Party, it is not so popular among everyone else. Polls show broad support for raising taxes on the rich. That is why Democrats want to highlight Romney's 14 percent tax rate last year, and to find out if he ever paid even less. And it
Last week, The New York Times' Ross Douthat advised Romney to study the case of Ronald Reagan, who was able to block Jimmy Carter's attempts to paint him as an anti-government radical. "With these words, a much more ideological politician than the current Republican nominee promised Americans who didn’t share his ideology that he understood their concerns. If Romney wants his summertime struggles to be a prelude to a victorious autumn, he needs to channel not only the Reagan of conservative legend, but the Reagan who knew how to woo and win non-conservatives too." It seems Romney is going to do the opposite.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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