Green Room

GOP, Glenn Kessler thinks you’re stupid

posted at 9:18 am on August 30, 2012 by

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.

Links from this article:

Fact checking the GOP’s opening night

Transcript of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s speech at RNC


Recently in the Green Room:



Trackback URL


According to leftys I’m stupid and I’m racist. Got it. I’ll deal with it.

I’m a stupid happy racist. That puts be above leftys who are stupid, racist and unhappy.

cozmo on August 30, 2012 at 9:24 AM

The left operates under the assumption that if “you didn’t build that” refers to “roads and bridges,” it somehow changes the underlying statist meaning of Barack Obama’s polemic. It doesn’t. In fact, it might even make his stance contextually MORE clear, by showing how he believes that if you didn’t build the roads and bridges that you used to base your work and commerce on, you are not responsible for building your own business–the federal government is.

The fact that the left sucks at even simple semantics shows how much their language skills have rotted, likely as a direct result of prodigious and constant implementation of Newspeak. Attaining proficiency in the language of political correctness comes with a price: proficiency in the language of reality.

mintycrys on August 30, 2012 at 9:59 AM

Memo to Glen Kessler, we think you are stupid. Stick that in you pinochio.

Ellis on August 30, 2012 at 10:43 AM

Is Glenn Keesler the guy who came up with Keesler’s and coke.

RickB on August 30, 2012 at 12:39 PM

Is Glenn Keesler the guy who came up with Keesler’s and coke.

RickB on August 30, 2012 at 12:39 PM

Keesler’s @ssh0le’s and coke sounds like the worst drink ever.

StompUDead on August 30, 2012 at 1:54 PM

It’s worse in context – just before the infamous “you didn’t build that.” Line – he ridicules and belittles hard work and initiative.

One question though – if all it takes is a few teachers and some “roads and bridges” – why isn’t everyone successful?

Everyone operates within the more or less same “Government” provided realm – they all have an equal chance. If that is all that it takes, then why do some succeed and some fail?

Chip on August 30, 2012 at 1:58 PM

All I hear about this subject is the Press running interference for what Obama supposedly MEANT by his exact words.
Obama, for his part, has explained this as taking his words out of context, which means, “Oh yes, I meant to say exactly what I said, only you are pot-shotting to get the meaning you want.”

IF we are not understanding what Obama really meant, shouldn’t Obama have come out very early in this process and explained why we missunderstood him? It would not be an apology, rather, it would be an excellent opportunity for him to execute on his “needs to communicate better” answer to his biggest mistake in his first, and only, term.

If Obama wants to revise his statement, HE should have done it, not these low life hacks. they have no use other than for fool-based entertainment.

gonnjos on August 30, 2012 at 2:16 PM

Libby – one word: BOOM! I agree with you – the insulting part wasn’t the “you didn’t build that” the insulting part was

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

ConservativeinCO on August 30, 2012 at 4:29 PM

Kessler’s August 29 column asks: “Can an entire convention be built around a grammatical error?”

The speech is a big pile of horse-poop; dissecting the speech into little piles of undigested straw won’t convince anyone that it’s hay they want feed their horses, it’s still horse-poop.

batterup on August 30, 2012 at 6:24 PM

Although Obama doesn’t quite make the follow up, he is implying that there are a lot of smart people out there who aren’t successful; that there are a lot of hard working people who aren’t successful.

Over any reasonable period of time this is horse feathers. In this country people who work hard and are smart do get ahead, but Obama knows he can’t tell his base that the reason they need him is because they are lazy and stupid.

halfbaked on August 30, 2012 at 9:20 PM

Nope, Glenn Kessler is the one that is stupid. And full of horse-crap to boot. As is his master, Barack Obama. Two things. First of all, Glenn, the “that” you’re referring to is being used as a pronoun. Pronouns always refer to an antecedent. The antecedent in this case is “a business”, not “roads and bridges” as you assert. Second, and more damning, is that pronouns must agree in number with their antecedent. “That”, in this case, is a singular pronoun referring to a singular antecedent–“a business.” If your buddy, Barry, had actually wanted to refer to the “roads and bridges” in the previous sentence, he could have, would have, should have used the plural pronoun, “them.” Try it yourself, Glenn. Substitute “them” for “that” in that sentence. There! Doesn’t that make it read what you WANT the sentence to say? Yes, why yes it does! See, but that isn’t what Barry said, is it? He said what he meant, and meant what he said. And he meant, “You didn’t build that business yourself.” So, Glenn, don’t bother trying to be an English teacher, and you’re a hack as a writer.

Cannon Fodder on August 30, 2012 at 11:52 PM

HotAir — Politics, Culture, Media, 2017, Breaking News from a conservative viewpoint

Sunday morning talking heads

Jazz Shaw Jun 25, 2017 8:01 AM
Top Pick

Health care and tweeting and Russia, oh my!

Top Pick

Will they stay or will they go?

I can’t imagine what I was thinking when I said that

Rocking the boat majorly

Big government never contracts. It only grows more powerful

It’s only a “ban” until it becomes inconvenient

The decline and fall of Obamacare and the AHCA

Jazz Shaw Jun 24, 2017 8:31 AM

This was all over before it began

Fixing crime in America is a complicated issue

Taylor Millard Jun 23, 2017 8:31 PM

Cops alone won’t solve it.

Victim’s father was President Maduro’s supervisor back when he was a bus driver.

Democrats forgot all about the “era of good feelings”

“Bernie and Jane Sanders have lawyered up.”

“the Judiciary Committee is examining the circumstances surrounding the removal of James Comey.”

Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing

Trump signs VA reform bill into law

John Sexton Jun 23, 2017 2:41 PM

“What happened was a national disgrace, and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls.”

A new era of something.

“…died suddenly in less than a week just after his return to the U.S.”

The shortsightedness of “Denounce and Preserve”

Taylor Millard Jun 23, 2017 12:11 PM

Pragmatism for the sake of pragmatism doesn’t always work.

Perhaps if you threw in a new car?

Gay marriages still growing, but not as fast

Andrew Malcolm Jun 23, 2017 10:31 AM

More, but not as quickly.

Should’ve stuck with the pirate gig. It was working for him

The battle for the rubble of Raqqa is underway

Andrew Malcolm Jun 23, 2017 8:51 AM

Won’t be much left.

Your list of demands is a publicity stunt

“what happened that day was emblematic of a deeply troubling trend among progressives…”

“The jobs are still leaving. Nothing has stopped.”

Bad vendor. Bad! No cookie!

“The Corps is just starting to grapple with the issues the court has identified.”

“So you want me to sing my praises, is that what you’re saying?”

Why would we possibly want that?

“I mean he sold our country to The Russians.”

I could think of someone else you might want to ask about…

“You can ask a hundred people what hate speech is and you get a thousand different answers”

Trump: I never made any recordings of Comey

Allahpundit Jun 22, 2017 2:01 PM


Hackers stole private data from election databases

John Sexton Jun 22, 2017 1:21 PM

“90,000 records stolen by Russian state actors contained drivers license numbers”

Failure to protect the city