'We built' a convention out of it

How a single phrase has become shorthand for Republicans to express their frustrations with the Obama administration.

    This is a divisive time in American politics. It seems that every quote, every statement, every action is fair game for the other side to take, distort, twist and attempt to fashion for their own political ends. It is perhaps nothing new, but this time it seems much meaner and nastier.

    I have written before about the ad from Barack Obama supporters which essentially claimed Mitt Romney's actions in private industry led to the cancer death of the wife of a worker he laid off.

    This despite the obvious facts Romney wasn't at the company at the time of the takeover, the worker's wife still had healthcare through her own employer, and the fatal cancer wasn't diagnosed until five years later.

    Now, the Republican National Convention is centered around a 'quote' from Barack Obama.

    Republicans say the president claimed that business owners didn't build their firms, the government did. From that, 'we built it' has become almost a mantra in Tampa.

    Speaker after speaker builds some form of it into their speech, Anne Romney mentioned it when talking about her husband on Tuesday, there are t-shirts and mugs bearing the legend and some country singer even wrote and performed a song about it.

    Obama made his comments during a campaign event in Virginia in July. Right-wing media outlets immediately seized on it. The Romney campaign quickly followed suit and the basis of a convention and a central theme of a presidential run were born.

    At this stage it would perhaps be useful to look at the significant quote from the Obama speech in its broader context.

    "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."

    The Obama campaign contends, and for many a reading of the quote suggests, 'you didn't build that' refers to 'roads and bridges' rather than to the business.

    The point he was, perhaps clumsily, trying to make - is that taxes pay for infrastructure which help businesses grow and flourish.

    The Republicans – and others – read it differently. They see this as an attack on private enterprise from a hostile president, even with the concluding line: "The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

    The Romney campaign has also released three videos where Obama's words have been edited so it sounds as if he speaks in one seamless uninterrupted sentence: "Let me tell you something, if you've got a business, that …you didn't build that."

    The nonpartisan Factcheck.org says PObama's words have been distorted. The Washington Post''s fact-checking unit accuses the Republicans of misleading the public, and says if Obama was guilty of anything, it was perhaps poor eloquence.

    'We built it' has become a shorthand for Republicans to express their frustrations and all they see wrong with the Obama administration.

    The original quote may be out of context – and many senior Republicans know that – but it is an effective tag line that it is going to play all the way to November 6.

    Follow Alan Fisher on twitter: @alanfisher


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