On the evidence of last week’s Republican campaign events, President Obama’s instant classic – “You didn’t build that” – is to Mitt Romney what that radioactive arachnid is to Spider-Man: It got under his skin, and, in an instant, the geeky stiff was transformed into a muscular Captain Capitalism swinging through the streets and deftly squirting his webbing all over Community-Organizerman. Rattled by the reborn Romney, the Obama campaign launched an attack on Romney’s attack on Obama’s attack on American business. First they showed Romney quoting Obama: “He said, ‘If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.’” And then the Obama team moved in for the kill: “The only problem? That’s not what he said.”
Indeed. What Obama actually said was:
“If you’ve got a business, you, you didn’t build that. [Interjection by fawning supporters: "Yeeaaaaah!"] “Somebody else made that happen.”
Since the president is widely agreed to be “the smartest guy ever to become president” (Michael Beschloss, presidential historian), the problem can’t be “what he said” but that you dummies aren’t smart enough to get the point he was trying to make. According to Slate’s David Weigel, the “you didn’t build that” bit referred back to something he’d said earlier in the speech – “somebody invested in roads and bridges.” You didn’t build those, did you? Or maybe he was referring back to “this unbelievable American system we have that allowed you to thrive.” You didn’t build the system, did you? Or maybe he was referring to the teleprompter. You didn’t build that, did you? Well, unless you’re Rajiv or Suresh from the teleprompter factory in Bangalore, you didn’t. Maybe he was referring back to something he said in a totally different speech – the Berlin Wall one, perhaps. You didn’t build that, did you? Who are we to say which of these highly nuanced interpretations of the presidential text is correct?