GOP, Glenn Kessler thinks you’re stupid
posted at 9:18 am on August 30, 2012 by Libby Sternberg
Why does Glenn Kessler think Republicans are stupid? Oh, he doesn’t use the word outright, but he surely must be thinking GOPers are either dumb or dishonest for their supposed misuse of the president’s “you didn’t build that” line.
Kessler resurrects the “it was only a grammatical error” excuse to bash the GOP for using the president’s “you didn’t build that” line as a mantra during their convention.
Kessler’s August 29 column asks: “Can an entire convention be built around a grammatical error?”
The “grammatical error,” Kessler contends, is the misinterpretation of “that” in the president’s remarks last month in Virginia. To review, this is what the president said (emphasis is Kessler’s—just skip if you’re tired of reading it):
“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
“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.”
Kessler then writes:
The key question is whether “that” refers to “roads and bridges” — as the Obama campaign contends — or to a business. Yes, it’s a bit of a judgment call, but the clincher for us was Obama’s concluding line: “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
Obama appears to be making the unremarkable point that companies and entrepreneurs often benefit in some way from taxpayer support for roads, education and so forth. In other words, he is trying to make the case for higher taxes, and for why he believes the rich should pay more, which as we noted is part of a long Democratic tradition.
Pay attention, Mr. Kessler, while I explain what you are missing: Republicans get the “grammatical error” point. You miss the broader one. The important part of the president’s speech wasn’t the tiny little “that” and what it referred to. It was the cavalier dismissal of what’s involved in the achievement of goals. It was his sneering at smarts and hard work—despite his tepid qualifier about “individual initiative”—that gave the “you didn’t built that” line context, regardless what he meant by “that” in that particular line.
Besides, in a technical sense, business people did build “that,” even if the president was referring to roads and schools. After all, their tax dollars paid for those things, as well.
Mr. Kessler seems to be missing the context of the Republican theme. Speaker after speaker has acknowledged that successful people have help along the way—from family, friends, even the government. But successful people achieve their goals because they work hard and are willing to take risks. Even if government helps them, they’re still the ones whose savings, income, futures are on the line. As New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez said, when talking about her parents’ building a security firm:
…sure, there was help along the way. But my parents took the risk. They stood up. And you better believe they built it.
The president seemed to jeer at that risk-taking with his comments preceding the infamous line with its ambiguous “that.” The president wasn’t celebrating success with his remarks. He was denigrating it. And when Republicans counter with “Yes, you did build that,” they are referring to the risk and persistence that business owners shoulder when trying to achieve their goals. They’re not ignoring other factors in success, but they’re giving credit where credit is due: with the risk-taker.
Another president celebrated this kind of perseverance using different words but similar thoughts—
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race
Republican President Calvin Coolidge said those words. Note the difference in tone and meaning, Mr. Kessler, and maybe you’ll understand the difference between Coolidge’s celebration of hard work and risk-taking and Obama’s scoffing at all “that.”
Libby Sternberg is a novelist.
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