Look, ma, I can lie about Obama’s quote, too!
Obama’s now infamous “didn’t build that” speech is similar to Elizabeth Warren’s viral remarks about how the rich didn’t get rich on their own. So it’s not surprising that Senator Scott Brown has just released a new Web video (embedded below) tying Obama’s remarks to Warren’s and painting them as vaguely anti-American. Brown says: “I will never demonize you as business leaders and business owners.”
Brown, apparently taken with the plaudits Romney has earned from the right for lying relentlessly about Obama’s quote, has now done the same. His video reproduces the audio of Obama’s speech this way:
“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 ‘cause I was so smart.’ Because if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Just as Romney’s Web video does, the audio is edited to remove the chunk of the speech in which Obama talks about our “great American system” and “roads and bridges,” misleading listeners into believing that the “didn’t build that” line was an insult to business owners. Any listener would reasonably conclude that the language quoted above is exactly as Obama delivered it.
The Brown video also unwittingly demonstrates just how ridiculous this attack really is. It includes speeches from John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton extolling the virtues of free enterprise, suggesting that Obama and Warren represent a radical departure from what these previous Dems think.
Yet Obama regularly extolls the free market as one of the greatest forces for progress and wealth creation the world has ever known. The only way Brown and Romney can portray Obama’s beliefs on these matters as radical or out of step with that of “good” Dems like JFK and Clinton is by decontextualizing that quote in a way that amounts to straight-up lying.
This gives me an occasion to make another point. The whole ”didn’t build that” dust-up is important, because the larger falsehood on display here — that Obama demeans success — is absolutely central to the Republican case against Obama. The Republican argument — Romney’s argument — is partly that Obama’s active ill will towards business owners and entrepreneurs is helping stall the recovery, so you should replace him with a president who wants people to succeed.
There is a separate policy dispute under way, too — Republicans insist that deregulation and tax reform that will cut taxes for the rich further are the way to speed the recovery, while Obama says more government intervention is necessary. But Republicans have decided the policy difference isn’t enough. They also need to sow doubts about Obama’s alleged intentions and hostility towards private enterprise and individual initiative, to give voters a narrative about the Obama presidency and an explanation for the sluggish recovery that will make them more receptive to GOP tax and deregulatory policies they might otherwise greet with skepticism. The claim that Obama demeans success is central to that narrative. Without lies like this one about the “didn’t build that” quote, that claim and that narrative collapse. And that’s why this matters.