Barack Obama stepped in it when he told small business owners that they didn’t deserve credit for their own success with his “you didn’t build that” speech in Roanoke, Virginia a week ago, but that wasn’t his only gaffe in his class-warfare argument. Obama argued that government built most of our grandest ventures:
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam.
Er, perhaps the White House should learn to Google. Government built the Hoover Dam, all right, but it had nothing to do with the Golden Gate Bridge … except to get in the way of its construction, as W. J. J. Hoge explains (via Reason):
That’s only half true. The federal government did build Hoover Dam. However, the Golden Gate Bridge was funded by a $35 million dollar bond issue by the six counties in the Golden Gate Bridge District. It was a state-authorized project built by a partnership of local governments.
Reason reveals that we owe a big debt for the Golden Gate Bridge to … the one percent:
What’s more, the conservative commentator Thomas Purcell asserted last November (Obama having been playing the Golden Gate card for a while now), “it was the ‘One Percenters’, as is the term coined of the rich and powerful these days, that built the Golden Gate, not government. More importantly, it was government that posed more obstacles for the building of the bridge than any other entity and if the Department of Defense had their way it never would have been built at all.” More Purcell:
The Department of Defense (then called the Department of War) kicked and screamed saying that the bridge would be dangerous and block the channel from ships going in an out of the Presidio base.
Since the DOD owned the land on either side of the channel, there was no way to build it without Federal approval, and they refused to grant it.
After another year of wrangling, and some heavy support from the fledgling automotive industry lobbying (yes, they had lobbyists back then too), the DOD finally relents and allows construction of the bridge, but only sells the land back to the state commission and does not participate in its construction.
Construction did not go as smoothly as planned. It takes another FIVE years for the government and the architects to come to agreement on the design. Furthermore, Federal contractor unions wanted the contracts to build the bridge and stalled the government on the issue, demanding they take action to halt construction unless they got the contract. Fortunately, local authorities insisted that as part of the contract only local labor would be used instead of Federal union contracts, insuring the area had work during Depression era unemployment.
The financing of the bridge came from private industry and local landowners, too, as Purcell explains, emphases mine:
A second problem in 1929 when the US Stock Market collapsed made for more problems. The Golden Gate committee now has trouble issuing the bond needed for the construction of the bridge, even though the citizens of the surrounding area had put up their own personal lands and farms as collateral. It takes 3 more years and the wealthy President and founder of Bank of America, A.P. Giannini, to personally buy the 35 million dollar bond which he then finances through the bank. Without the bank and the intervention of private industry fueled by personal wealth, again the bridge would not have been built. By 1937 the bridge is completed—and Strauss delivers the bridge 1.7 million UNDER budget, using local non-union labor and private contractors.
The Golden Gate Bridge is not a symbol of government planning or a government project—it is a bridge built DESPITE government setbacks and government intervention and is the sole achievement of individuals working in and with the private sector to overcome these obstacles.
How many more grand projects might the private sector produce if government wasn’t confiscating one dollar out of every four? Perhaps enough to build a research center, which Obama and his speechwriters rather desperately need.
Got an Obamateurism of the Day? If you see a foul-up by Barack Obama, e-mail it to me at [email protected] with the quote and the link to the Obamateurism. I’ll post the best Obamateurisms on a daily basis, depending on how many I receive. Include a link to your blog, and I’ll give some link love as well. And unlike Slate, I promise to end the feature when Barack Obama leaves office.
Illustrations by Chris Muir of Day by Day. Be sure to read the adventures of Sam, Zed, Damon, and Jan every day!