This week Obama, speaking off the teleprompter, said something that set off a storm of criticism:
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.
Pat Sajak, of all people, best characterized the effect of this defining moment on public opinion:
It's as if President Obama climbed into a tank, put on his helmet, talked about how his foray into Cambodia was seared in his memory, looked at his watch, misspelled "potato" and pardoned Richard Nixon all in the same day.
On Facebook Don Surber summed up voters' impressions quite neatly:
Americans gave Obama $787 billion for a stimulus. He spent it on government programs. The unemployment rate went up. Slowly it has come down, but it is still higher than when he started spending the stimulus. "If you've got a business, you didn't build that" confirms for many people -- a majority of voters, I believe -- that this our president is a big government blowhard who does not understand business and is to blame for the lack of a recovery from this recession. Context is not simply reading the whole speech but placing the speaker in context.
Recognizing the effect of the blunder the media rushed to Obama's defense: He was taken out of context; misquoted; he didn't mean what he said.
This week was another anniversary of the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne and it's as if they were playing by Boston Globe rules -- remember this outrageous drivel by Charles P. Pierce from a few years ago?
If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.
I think we should tag such mendacious media papering over of Democrats' flaws as "Boston Globing".
Tim Cavanaugh at Reason did a fine job surveying the broken field running of the Obama press lackeys who were Boston Globing the Obama pratfall.
The president's opponents are making a big fuss over comments that are on their face contemptuous of individual merit and out of step with American popular opinion.
The president's supporters have a multipronged counterargument: Either he didn't make those comments or they were taken out of context or even if they are in context they don't matter because we should be reading between the lines. [snip]
But at TPM, David Taintor calls "You didn't build that" a "canard" that was cooked up by rightwing bloggers and belatedly adopted by Mitt Romney's campaign: [snip]
Reason alumnus Dave Weigel says the real culprit is the president's rambling, and he speculates about missing clauses: [snip] A commenter on Emily Ekins' post last night goes even further, condemning the "intellectual dishonesty it takes to believe that's what he said." So I'll bite: What should we believe he said, other than what he in fact said?
Like Cavanaugh I'll treat Obama as having said what he meant: that big government is what greases the economic wheel and that individual initiative is overplayed. We all owe the feds and should cough up more taxes to repay them for making us rich.
Never mind that basic public services he went on about -- as statists always do -- to justify higher government taxation (fire and police services and teachers) are paid for by local taxes, not federal taxes and are already paid almost entirely by the productive classes, not the recipients of federal government entitlements to whom he wants to transfer the wealth of the successful.
Never mind either that Obama regularly steps in it when he leaves the prepared script. Ace of Spades reminds of other times Obama has stepped in it:
For such a supposedly fantastic speaker, it's sure hard to bring to mind any outstanding Obama quotes. I remember nothing from his big post-racial race speech, his inaugural, his state of the union addresses. What I remember is when he goes off teleprompter.
"Why can't I just eat my waffle?"
"I've now been in 57 states -- I think one left to go."
"The private sector is doing fine."
"At a certain point, you've made enough money."
"The Cambridge police acted stupidly."
"I bowled a 129. It's like -- it was like Special Olympics, or something."
"They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them."
"We're the country that built the Intercontinental Railroad."
"I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."
"You didn't build that."
The President in this ill-considered Elizabeth Warren-like claptrap revealed he is utterly divorced from the majority of Americans. We do not belittle success or those who achieve it. We do believe that with great effort and some luck we all have the chance to be successful, and we don't think the provision of infrastructure, which we all pay for (but especially the well to do) takes away from the pride in our accomplishments. Even unsuccessful businesses depend on roads and bridges, police and firemen, after all.
So obvious was this blunder that his campaign responded very fast with an ad defending Obama, but it was an ad that was so easily shown to be contrary to demonstrated fact that it rightly subjected the President to even more ridicule:
The Weekly Standard shows the ad and a video of Obama's speech side by side to show how reckless the attempted rebuttal is:
"Mitt Romney is launching a false attack," the ad's text states. But the weird thing is: The Obama campaign is purposefully trying to make it sound like Romney is misquoting the president, when the official White House transcript backs up Romney's quotation.
In the ad, Romney says that Obama revealed his thoughts on business when he said this, "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
And, in fact, according to official White House transcript that's precisely what Obama said on July 13, 2012 in Roanoke, Virginia. [snip]
Nevertheless, the Obama campaign, in the ad, says it's not true. "The only problem?" the ad text reads. "That's not what he said." It then turns to Obama, from the same Roanoke campaign speech, who said, "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life."
Which is true. Obama did say that. But he also said the line that Romney says he said -- "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
And, in fact, later in the ad the Obama campaign actually plays the clip that Romney quotes of Obama...
I'm not about to delve into psychological analysis of this troubled man, an inveterate liar and manifest narcissist, but James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal and Robert Oscar Lopez of the American Thinker both offer related and plausible explanations.
In sum here is Taranto:
So Obama had the Democratic nomination in a year when the public was fed up with Republicans. His general-election opponent, John McCain, was elderly and erratic. When the financial panic hit, Obama was able to project an air of competence simply by standing still as McCain flailed. What clinched Obama's election was not anything he had done, but merely that he had not behaved foolishly when his opponent did.
What gave his campaign much of its appeal also was not what he had done, but what he was. As Janny Scott put it in that 2008 piece: "Out of his story, he has also drawn the central promise of his campaign: if a biracial son of a Kenyan and a Kansan could reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable in himself, a divided country could do the same."
And of course not only Americans projected their hopes onto this political cipher. So did Norwegians, who awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize after less than a year in office. You may get a kick out of rereading our column of Oct. 9, 2009, titled "Most Embarrassing Moment." We'll quote again here from a contemporaneous Reuters dispatch titled "Obama Peace Prize Win Has Americans Asking Why?":
"It would be wonderful if I could think why he won," said Claire Sprague, 82, a retired English professor as she walked her dog in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. "They wanted to give him an honor I guess but I can't think what for."
Itya Silverio, 33, of Brooklyn, was also surprised. "My first opinion is that he got it because he's black," she said. "What did he do that was so great? He hasn't even finished office yet." . . .
Some said the choice could damage the Nobel committee's credibility and that of the award.
"It looks less like an objective award than it does a political endorsement," said William Jelani Cobb, a history professor at Spelman College in Atlanta and author of a forthcoming book on Obama.
"Guantanamo is not closed yet and it makes it difficult for him to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan," he said.
At least he eventually closed Guantanamo. Oh wait . . .
Obama recently said his biggest shortcoming as president was that he has failed to tell the electorate "the story that tells us where he's going." But he's certainly told a story: a story in which he has personally achieved great things, like saving Detroit and killing Osama bin Laden, whereas everything that's gone wrong is the fault of somebody else--George W. Bush, congressional Republicans, corporate jet owners, etc.
The problem with this story is that it is manifestly untrue. Obama not only has failed to deliver on the extravagant promises--world peace and racial harmony and receding oceans and free medical care for all. He has fallen short even of a minimal standard of political and governmental competence.
What is the root of Barack Obama's resentment? Why does he insist that men like Jack Gilchrist don't deserve their success? Not because they are successful. Even if Obama loses in a landslide, he will have enjoyed more success than most people can dream of in a lifetime.
No, Obama resents their modest success precisely because they did earn it.
And Lopez carried this line of analysis even further, emphasizing how much Obama owes to affirmative action rather than his own accomplishments:
In Roanoke, Virginia, Obama was speaking in terms that he knew would terrorize young people of color because of the self-doubts fostered by affirmative action.
When he tells the audience not to take credit for their successes, he is perhaps rationalizing his own trajectory from a pampered private school in Hawaii to the presidency. His trajectory after Hawaii led him straight through the familiar Democratic "gratitude" rackets of Ivy League affirmative action and big-city machine politics, rackets that felt suffocating to me growing up and which led me to become a staunch Giuliani Republican. The fact that Obama landed a plum lecturer position at the University of Chicago without having to pay his dues on the tenure track -- which would have required the demanding rigors of a dissertation defense, peer-reviewed publication, years of formal student evaluations, committee work, and at the least a peer-critiqued monograph on a topic other than his life experiences -- indicates to me that he continued to get shortcuts in exchange for political payouts to white liberals, which could only make him feel more imprisoned by the racial gratitude racket. Yet that system worked for him, and maybe he needs to say such things in public to convince himself not to feel guilty.
As silly as this unforced error was for Obama, he and the media lit one more exploding cigar as the week drew to a close.
Absent a record of personal accomplishment and weakened by his own ill-considered off the cuff comments this week, Obama once again stooped to relying on class welfare to distract voters. He demanded Romney release more tax records. And some conservative pundits (whom I'll spare further embarrassment by not naming) joined in and said he should comply with that request: Why not, after all, help Obama with this gimmick and give him more material to point at and remind people his opponent is a rich and successful businessman? I mean what's wrong with allowing Obama another crack at avoiding having to respond to questions about his own lack of achievement in office?
Right on cue the queen of media partisan hacks, Andrea Mitchell, called Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post to explain why it was so important for Romney to turn over yet more records to the Obama campaign:
Appearing on Wednesday's Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza warned Mitt Romney that he would suffer "a death by a thousand political cuts" if he does not release more tax returns. Cillizza further proclaimed: "...every day we talk about tax returns. Why hasn't he released them? What's in them?...the current position he has is untenable politically."
Continuing to push for Romney to release more, Cillizza predicted: "...what we don't know is how much tax he did pay. And until he releases more...the Obama team, at least, is not going to let this go away." He then concluded: "...all this stuff gets them [Republicans] away from talking about what they want to talk about, which is why I think he [Romney] needs to lance the boil, politically, sooner rather than later."
Host Andrea Mitchell opened the discussion by happily touting: "...the Romney offensive still hasn't quieted a growing chorus of Republicans calling on Romney to release his tax returns." After reading several excerpts from a National Review editorial demanding more Romney tax information, Mitchell declared: "...we're talking about...a conservative magazine, just piercingly tearing through the Romney campaign point-by-point defense of them not releasing more tax returns."
How many National Review articles critical of President Obama does Mitchell read on air?
Here is a transcript of the July 18 exchange:
ANDREA MITCHELL: Good day, I'm Andrea Mitchell, live in New York today. In our Daily Fix, the Romney campaign is escalating its attacks on President Obama with a new ad, and in Ohio, where the candidate will be campaigning later today. But the Romney offensive still hasn't quieted a growing chorus of Republicans calling on Romney to release his tax returns.
Chris Cillizza is an MSNBC contributor and managing editor of PostPolitics.com, Mr. Fix. Well, this whole tax return issue is not going away. Mitt Romney has tried to change the subject but we are seeing increasingly conservative calls. Let's take a look at the National Review, Chris. The National Review editorial said release the returns and it went on to say, "John Kerry actually released returns from 1999 through 2003 and also released tax returns during his Senate runs. As for Theresa Heinz," that's an issue that Romney had raised, "Romney isn't the wealthy spouse of a candidate but the candidate himself. In 2008, John McCain released two years of returns, but he had been filling out financial disclosure forms for decades, every year as a senator."
So we're talking about, you know, the National Review, a conservative magazine, just piercingly tearing through the Romney campaign point-by-point defense of them not releasing more tax returns. They also said, "In all likelihood he won't be able to maintain a position that looks secretive and is a departure from campaign conventions. The only question is whether he releases more returns now or later." Chris, will it be now, later or never?
CILLIZZA: Well, I think they're right, Andrea. It just seems to me this is setting up Romney for a death by a thousand political cuts, which is every day we talk about tax returns. Why hasn't he released them? What's in them? You know, what's keeping him from releasing them? I just think I agree with the National Review here. I just think that the current position he has is untenable politically.
Legally, he's fine. We know Mitt Romney didn't break any laws. We know all those things. But what we don't know is how much tax he did pay. And until he releases more - now, depends on how you define more, I don't think he's going to release 20 years' worth, but something that provides a fuller picture of his financial background - the Obama team, at least, is not going to let this go away.
And I would say that most Republicans I talk to, here's what they say, Andrea, "Look, this is an election still about the economy. We need to get back to talking about the economy and what they believe to be Barack Obama's poor performance in making the economy better. The longer we spend talking about how much tax Mitt Romney paid, when he paid it, how wealthy he is, the Cayman Islands, Swiss bank accounts" - all this stuff gets them away from talking about what they want to talk about, which is why I think he needs to lance the boil, politically, sooner rather than later.
Others less naïve started asking Democratic leaders for their tax returns. Ann Romney responded that there was no way that the Romneys were giving more material for the Obama campaign to play with and use to avoid the election issues, and by the end of the week when some were asking Democrats to reveal more of their financial records, too, even (the very wealthy) Nancy Pelosi was willing to walk away from this ploy which was going nowhere.