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Got a Pencil? You Didn’t Build That


Most people would never accuse President Obama of memorizing Milton Friedman under the covers at night. Yet the patron saint of laissez-faire probably would not take as much exception as many Republicans have to Obama’s comment in Roanoke three weeks ago that “if you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”\

Republicans have given Obama quite a rhetorical thrashing for that gaffe, and the attacks show little sign of letting up. That’s because his remarks are not only extremely convenient to the GOP; they also reopen an ideological fault line that goes back decades.

The gaffe plays right into the Republican narrative about Obama: that he does not understand business and free enterprise, that he thinks everything good flows from government; that he is at heart an economic collectivist. It took the Romney camp roughly two picoseconds to line up a phalanx of entrepreneurs to testify that they built their businesses with their own sweat and blood, thank you very much.

Democrats have counterpunched, but not well. Their argument boils down to: (a) Obama didn’t say that, and (b) he was right!

All of this is a fresh gloss on an old debate. In 1934, FDR attacked what he called the notion of “the self-supporting man”: “Without the help of thousands of others, any one of us would die, naked and starved. Consider the bread upon our table, the clothes upon our backs, the luxuries that make life pleasant; how many men worked in sunlit fields, in dark mines, in the fierce heat of molten metal, and among the looms and wheels of countless factories, in order to create them for our use and enjoyment.”

Read More at A. Barton Hinkle.


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