July 30, 2012

"Well, I Didnt WANT To Say That."

I wish that some of the writers out there would learn the difference between the terms "said" and "meant." For example, Greg Sargent, over at The Washington Post, who just posted an op-ed titled "Why Romney Keeps Attacking Things Obama Didn't Say." It's one thing to argue that Obama's "you didn't build that" quote means this or that, in which case you'd have to admit that if it means anything other than what the Romney camp is implying it means, then the Great Orator...well, screwed up. He could have said, for example, "you didn't build that on your own." Three simple words. Problem solved. What you can't do, however, is argue that's not what he said. He did. Period.

This is also not a situation in which the words have somehow changed. For example, Romney's quote "I like being able to fire people," an endorsement of accountability in private enterprise over lack of accountability in government, somehow (gee, I wonder how) became "I like firing people," as though he took glee in the actual deed. (Go ahead, Google "Romney I like firing people" and see how many people changed the wording.)Here, the words are actually changed, thereby distorting the meaning.

In Obama's case, as I said, you'd have an argument if he had said "you didn't build that on your own," and they cut out the last three words. But he didn't, and they didn't. And can we dispense with the bullshit idea that his "that" somehow referred to the "bridges and roads"? That doesn't even make grammatical sense. You'd have to say "those" because of the plural antecedent.

 So go ahead and argue what the words mean if you want, but what team Obama still hasn't addressed is who else deserves the credit for that business. I've pointed out before that he "borrowed" this idea from Elizabeth Warren, who was much more artful (and specific):

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did. 

The thing she doesn't define, though, is "the rest of us," just as Obama doesn't say who the "someone else" is. The truth is that if you're going to talk about things built by the government, "the rest of us" must be "taxpayers," which means she's ultimately implying that about half the country is not really responsible for the country. It also--ironically--means that the people she's proposing raising the taxes on because they weren't responsible for building roads, etc., are the very same people whose taxes are responsible for...building roads, etc.

Just take government out of the equation altogether. If instead of having those business owners pay taxes to the government, which then used that money for various programs, the businesspeople used their own money directly for those same programs, would anybody question if they were dependent on someone else? It's like arguing that people who donate to charities should acknowledge that they're not solely responsible for those donations--the charity and the charity recipients also deserve some credit. The former because they collected and dispersed the money, and the latter because...well, because they're also people, I guess. The problem is, you could still have charitable donations without charities or recipients, but without the donors, the other two are sunk. And I think, ultimately, that's what's so disappointing (and revealing) to so many people about what Obama said/meant: he gets it backwards. What he ought to be doing instead of reminding taxpayers that they wouldn't succeed without government, is acknowledging that government wouldn't exist without taxpayers.

UPDATE: It's an interesting illustration of bias, I think when you look at the fact that over at Politicfact, Team Romney's claim that Obama said "You didn't build that" (which he did)? "False!" The claim that Romney likes firing people (which is not what he said)? Ehhhh..."mostly false."

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