Dueling political ads emerged this week, as the Romney camp tries to pounce on President Obama's "you didn't build that" comment with a scathing "yes I did" from the perspective of a small business owner.
The Obama camp responded with a web ad that attempted to put the comment in context, accusing Romney of distorting the truth in his quoting of the president.
The Obama ad accuses Romney of misquoting the president. It first shows Romney quoting the president saying, "If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen." The Obama ad then responds, "The only problem? That's not what he said."
However, that is precisely what he said.
"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," reads the full paragraph in context.
The real question, hotly disputed, is whether that's what the president meant.
Nick Thielen at the Liberal Talking Points Memo, while taking at face value that Romney's take on the comment is a "distortion," does offer an interesting and detailed analysis about how the reaction to it developed. Thielen noted that it took "three-and-a-half days before the Romney campaign itself made any mention" of it.
"In the interim," Thielen writes, "what transpired was a textbook case of how a distortion can emerge from right-wing online media, get laundered by Fox News, and go mainstream as a major line of attack by the Republican nominee for president.”
Noting that he prefaced the remark with a reference to roads and bridges, Obama said in a WCTV.tv interview in Tallahassee that aired Friday, "What I said was together we build roads and we build bridges. That's the point I've made millions of times, and by the way, that's a point Mr. Romney has made as well, so this is just a bogus issue," according to an AP report.
Charles Krauthammer on Fox News, meanwhile, insisted that there is no distortion at all. "I don't care about that one sentence," Krauthammer said, though he insisted that "as anybody looking at it would see in print, that 'that' you build, 'that' is a reference to a person's idea that he built his own business. It's not a reference to roads and bridges.
"But let's look at the whole context and let's ignore that one sentence," Krauthammer said. "He starts with a mocking reference to people who succeed believing it might have something to do with intelligence or hard work. Sort of laughing at them.
"So he is mocking people," Krauthammer continued, "a Korean immigrant who works 16 hours a day in a candy store and he builds it and he sends his kids to college with that, you know, with the money he finally makes 20 years later. Or a physician in medical school, you know, who goes 60 or 80-hour weeks, works hard and then in his 50s, begins reaping the rewards of his work. That's No. 1.
"Secondly," Krauthammer continued, "everybody he says who helped you along the way. It's no accident everybody in his example is an agent of the government. It's either a teacher, or a road, or a bridge, or the Internet, which he says incorrectly was invented by the government so we could create opportunities in the marketplace."
Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at [email protected].