NASA's 'Curiosity' Mars rover landed on the red planet Monday, and because pretty much everything is political until November, at least a few of President Obama's detractors have turned it into the least convincing rebuttal to his "You didn't build that" speech ever. Shortly after the landing, the president tweeted, "I congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality." That anodyne tweet inspired a flurry of conservatives to make sure Obama didn't take too much credit. Here's an example:
They are, of course, referencing Obama's by now famous speech that goes like this:
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.
Obama's speech grated at a lot of people who think it understated the individual's role in his own success -- enough people that "you didn't build that" can become an almost reflexive jab from conservatives, made at the end of sentences trumpeting any success. (Or failure. Think "8 percent unemployment? You didn't build that.") So when the Mars Rover became the latest example of success in the news, we got tweets like this one from Shane Backler, a producer for Herman Cain's and Erick Erickson's radio shows:
About that Curiosity Rover... Obama didn't build that!— Shane Backler (@ShaneyBeeBack) August 6, 2012
And this one, from a Florida ammunition retailer:
Dear Obama, When u brag about a successful Mars Rover landing....Please remember "You Didn't Build That"..Taxpayers did ammunitiondepot.com— Ammunition Depot (@AmmunitionDepot) August 6, 2012
Some Obama critics made the "you didn't build that joke," but had to clarify that it was in fact a joke when met with derision. And it's possible that others with variations on this line are being tongue in cheek too, but you can forgive people for mocking it because it's a terrible example of what, if anything, is wrong with Obama's philosophy. We're certain Obama does remember that taxpayers built the Mars rover, because it cost $2.5 billion, far over its original budget, and until approximately a day ago, it was used as an example of government overspending in a year when Obama proposes a budget that drastically cuts NASA's funding. Obama couldn't even get away with using the Mars mission as an example in the "you didn't build that" wars, because it's not an example of government aiding the private sector in its successes. Its just an example of the government aiding a government agency.
Obama's words have inspired an at times interesting debate over how much the American government has contributed to private sector success stories, but let's all agree that a critique of Obama's side in this argument based on the success of a government agency's spaceship is almost comically off-topic.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.