Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

'You didn't build that:' A theme out of context

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:58 AM EDT, Sat September 1, 2012
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers his acceptance speech on the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday, August 30. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/04/politics/gallery/best-of-dnc/index.html' target='_blank'>See the best photos from the Democratic National Convention.</a> Presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers his acceptance speech on the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday, August 30. See the best photos from the Democratic National Convention.
HIDE CAPTION
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
Republican convention: The best photos
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama's "You didn't build that" line was the heart of the GOP convention attack
  • Republicans say the attack reveals Obama's disdain for entrepreneurs
  • But the line has been taken out of context, a look at the transcript shows

(CNN) -- "You didn't build that."

That July comment by President Barack Obama was the cornerstone of this year's Republican National Convention. Republicans have seized on the phrase -- a seemingly stray clause in a line Obama delivered at a campaign stop in Virginia -- as a kind of Freudian slip that reveals the president's hostility to free enterprise.

The statements:

The phrase "We Built It" was the backdrop for speaker after speaker during Tuesday night's convention proceedings, and speakers have invoked it to paint Obama as an out-of-touch, big-government liberal.

RNC declares Romney and Ryan nominees
Romney interrupted during RNC speech
Romney: I wish Obama had succeeded
Clint Eastwood's entire RNC speech

"That makes me think that Barack Obama has a problem with the American dream," GOP Chairman Reince Priebus said Tuesday.

"He said, 'You didn't build it.' Translation: 'It doesn't rightly belong to you,' " former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee chimed in Wednesday.

House Speaker John Boehner delivered what may have been the most epic recounting of the line, putting it in the context of his family's Cincinnati tavern: "Now, let's say a guy walked into our bar, and before he could say anything, he overheard a regular telling his story," Boehner said Tuesday night. "Turns out this guy ran a small business, got involved in it while he was in school. Then, out of nowhere, his business partner died. They had just one customer. So he fought like hell through sleepless nights and close calls ... Now, if a guy walked into a bar and heard that story, and he said, 'Well, if you've got a business, you didn't build that,' well, you know what we'd do with him, don't you? We'd throw him out."

Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan invoked it in his acceptance speech Wednesday, praising small business owners who show up "to open the door at 5 in the morning."

"Nobody did their thinking, and worrying, and sweating for them," Ryan said. "After all that work, and in a bad economy, it sure doesn't help to hear from their president that government gets the credit. What they deserve to hear is the truth: Yes, you did build that."

The clips that ran between speakers at the GOP convention took things further, heavily editing Obama's remarks to set up television-ready vignettes with business owners who took umbrage at the comment.

"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 ... If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen," was what delegates heard over the PA system.

Fact Check: Trimming the Pentagon

The facts:

Obama's remark came at a July 13 speech at a firehouse in Roanoke, Virginia, where he attacked Republican opposition to his economic plans and defended the role of government in promoting economic growth. It is true that he used the phrase, "you didn't build that."

Here is the full text:

"Look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own," he said. "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," he continued. "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. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own."

So there it is. Everything before and after "You didn't build that" refers to infrastructure, education and public services.

Obama released a rebuttal to the criticism within two weeks of his Roanoke appearance. In a television spot, the president tells viewers, "Of course Americans build their own business. Everyday hardworking people sacrifice to meet a payroll, create jobs, and make our economy run. And what I said was that we need to stand behind them, as America always has. By investing in education, training, roads and bridges, research and technology." He called ads that used the edited version of his remarks "flat-out wrong."

Fact Check: Most Americans think today's kids will do worse?

The conclusion:

It's a classic example of a remark being taken out of context.

CNN's Matt Smith, Amy Roberts and Christine Brazill contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
Although it has been over for nearly a year now, the war in Iraq continued to be a flash point in the final debate.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama made the case that al Qaeda in Pakistan is decimated while Mitt Romney argued they are on the rise in other countries.
updated 9:22 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama accused Mitt Romney of initially being against a withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan in 2014.
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
The contention that President Obama apologized to other nations for American behavior has been mentioned repeatedly by his critics, including Mitt Romney.
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama asserted that it cost the United States less to help oust Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi than it did to run two weeks of the 2003-2011 war in Iraq.
updated 5:58 PM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
President Barack Obama said Gov. Mitt Romney had criticized his administration for being too tough against China, and bringing a protectionist case at the World Trade Organization.
updated 12:48 PM EDT, Sat October 20, 2012
Conservative critics launched an attack on moderator Candy Crowley after she corrected Romney's claim that Obama did not refer to the consulate attack in Benghazi as an "act of terror."
updated 7:50 AM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Romney highlighted the number of women in the unemployment lines during President Barack Obama's term.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Obama said he identified the September 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya as a terrorist attack within a day; Romney said it took two weeks.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Obama touted his administration's support for the federal Pell Grant program and other aid for college students.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
Obama boasted that the Affordable Care Act gives insured women free contraception coverage, and said Romney thinks employers should decide whether women can get contraception through insurance.
updated 8:16 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
Fears of a possibly nuclear-armed Iran took center stage early in the vice presidential debate between Biden and Ryan.
updated 8:18 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
The September attack that killed four Americans at a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya was the subject of a few claims at the VP debate.
updated 8:20 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
Federal support for wind power and electric cars was one of the early flashpoints between Biden and Ryan.
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Fri October 12, 2012
The Affordable Care Act emerged as an issue between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
ADVERTISEMENT