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Taking Obama Out of Context

I saw a few minutes of a speech President Obama recently gave. Here’s the paragraph that seems to be getting the focus:

“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.”

While that was what was what the news liked to show, the speech continued:

“The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.  I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service.  That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

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.  That’s how we invented the Internet.  That’s how we sent a man to the moon.  We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for president – because I still believe in that idea.  You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.”

All in all, this sounded like “we’re all in this together, and even those who are successful had the opportunity and the work of those before them which helped their success.” If you take a step back, this isn’t an insult, it’s a fact. Warren Buffet was a student of Benjamin Graham. Graham authored the bible of investing titled Security Analysis. He also wrote the more easily read The Intelligent Investor. Is Buffet not a self-made man? Of course he is, but he’ll be the first to pay homage to his mentor, Ben Graham. Bill Gates founded Microsoft, but you knew that. A software company can’t exist without hardware, the processor it runs on. Gates is no less a success for this fact, it’s just a truism, he built on what came before him, and he did so very, very successfully. I think it’s fair to say that anyone who is successful would be happy to point to a teacher, a mentor, someone they look up to as a positive influence. The US is a land of opportunity, and to suggest that there was someone before you who literally paved the road so people could drive to your business or bridge so your town is accessible takes nothing away from that success.

Back to the President’s speech. This is the soundbite the media has latched onto – “If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.” A WTF moment. Parse out the sentence, “You didn’t build that.” “That” refers to the roads and bridges from the prior sentence.

Now, Romney, instead of ignoring an ignorant out of context clip, hops on the bandwagon, “to suggest that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple……”

Mr Romney, I’d expect more from you, sir. I’d expect you to read the whole Obama speech, understand his message, and not hop on the ignorance train. Because you’ve already stepped on your own feet. You’re not concerned about the poor, but no context changes that. That particular speech you gave made it clear. That speech showed that you are very disconnected from the population you wish to govern. Larry Kudlow (CNBC program host) – I’m surprised at you as well, repeating the out of context few words and ignoring the spirit of the speech.


  • Christian L. July 19, 2012, 10:49 am

    Way to put that soundbite in context. It’s a shame that consumers have to do the work that the media should.

    In the end, I realize these politicians are in it to win it. But it saddens me that they often try to win through any means necessary, which often means out-of-context quotes from the opponent.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

  • Philip Taylor July 20, 2012, 3:20 pm

    “You’re not concerned about the poor…” Wow. That’s some awesome hyperbole there, Joe. Surely you don’t believe that?

    Just because someone doesn’t want the government to do something, it doesn’t mean they don’t want it done.

    I’m a believer in small government, but I also tithe and volunteer in my local community. Wanting the govt to do something vs the private sector does not put you in a place of moral superiority.

    Furthermore, “community” is not defined by those under the rule of the federal govt.

    Even if you take Obama’s word that he meant the roads, Internet, etc. It’s still wrong. Our tax dollars build everything the govt ever does. The govt (and their occasional bi-product) only exists because people created businesses and incomes that could be taxed.

    There is a philosophical debate going on here about the role of Govt. Everyone agrees that Obama would rather have a bigger government with higher taxes. That’s what he wants. Even the leftist NY Times says this about Obama,

    “Instead, he advances a we’re-in-this-together creed born out of his days as a community activist. It is this belief that to him justifies government programs as necessary for American progress at a time when that is not fashionable.”

    Obama wants a bigger government and he is creating a boogie-man out of the rich and business owner to advance his agenda among the employed. Why else would he pretend there is someone out there saying “I’m smart” or “I work hard”. He’s trying to divide and gin up votes. Pathetic.

  • Tom J. July 20, 2012, 7:01 pm

    It seems that you who ignored the spirit of the speech; you are the one who did not read the entire speech. The predicate for the President’s “we’re all in this together” remark is found in the paragraph prior to the one where he said “There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me. . .” What was it that such Americans agree with? As stated in the prior paragraph, they agree with his proposal to “ask the wealthy to pay a little bit more.” Thus, the clear purpose of his message about crediting one’s success to other factors — to roads, firemen, teachers and mentors — was to justify his demand for higher taxes on the wealthy. But they are already paying more than their fair share – the top 5% of earners pay well over half of all federal income taxes. Reading his Roanoke speech in its entirety yields the inescapable conclusion that the President considers my success to be a result of the collective enterprise, not the fruit of my individual labor.

  • JOE July 20, 2012, 8:32 pm

    Tom, the bottom 50% pays zero or less, so I actually agree with you on that point (that the top 10% or so pay more than their fair share.) The rest, is a diversion from solving the problems we have in this country.
    You might have a good word for it. No inflation to speak of, but high unemployment and no long term spending. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers, I just know this fingerpointing isn’t progress.

  • Roger @ The Chicago Financial Planner July 21, 2012, 12:30 pm

    Joe great post, I’m already sick of this campaign and I live in what will be the most uncontested state for president, Illinois. Why does the media have to take everything out of context and why do both sides need to engage in all of this negative crap? Why can’t each candidate just articulate why there program/approach is the way to go and let me decide?

  • John July 24, 2012, 9:54 am

    At the very least President Obama needs a better speech writer or reviewer. Reading thru it could have prevented the whole storm.

  • Tony @ A Young Investor July 26, 2012, 11:21 am

    Obama’s a fraud, like most politicians. He’s better at attacking political opponents than attacking real issues.

  • Elle July 27, 2012, 12:02 pm

    Tom J. and others believing “fair” in taxes means that all should pay the same tax rate: See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_taxation#Arguments for why a progressive tax is the fair approach.

    General aside: To me, neither Warren Buffett nor Bill Gates is “self-made.” Buffett’s father served for eight years in Congress. His grandfather owned a grocery store. He bought his first stock when he was 11. Would this have happened without his parents’ dinner table conversation, for one? He had two parents who obviously were educated (one way or another) and encouraged, one way or another his years of education. Buffett did not suffer the fourth class treatment blacks and many immigrants suffered. He was granted opportunities that women of his generation were denied.

    Bill Gates’s dad was an attorney and his mother served on the boards of a major bank and United Way . His grandfather was the president of a bank. Gates attended a private school in his younger years, one that had use of a computer for student education in the 1970s.

    Both Buffett and Gates had huge legs up on someone growing up, say, black, in poor neighborhoods with poor schools and many abusive people (from step-relatives to gangs) in their lives and maybe only one parent with little education. Buffett and Gates are smart fellows, but this is an outcome of their advantaged upbringings. How would they have done had they been brought up in adversity? This is the real measure of talent.

    You want someone truly up by the bootstraps? Consider someone like Chris Gardner’s story, as portrayed in the film “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The distance he came far surpasses that of either Buffett or Gates. I think the distance covered determines who is self-made.

  • JOE July 27, 2012, 1:06 pm

    Elle, you helped make my point, only more so. I know Chris Gardner’s story (from the movie) and agree, what he did was remarkable.
    I don’t know what fair is anymore. I think there are objections to any proposed tax structure. I’d be curious how a flat tax of 15-17% would work, with a credit so it kicks in at income over say, $40,000. Kill most of the tax code, no deductions, exemptions, nothing, just flat tax on all income regardless of source. How many accountants and IRS employees would be put out of work?

  • JOE July 27, 2012, 1:10 pm

    I’m not a big believer in censorship, so I’m letting this though. I’d be happy if politicians were not permitted to talk about the other guy, only what they will do if elected. Much of the debate I see is attacking the other side.

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