Shots Across the Bow

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PolitiFact Tennessee:  Even the Editors Don’t Read It

PolitiFact Tennessee just published an evaluation of Tennessee Congressman Chuck Fleischmann's statement that Obama claimed that small businesses succeed because of government. Fleischmann's statement was based on a speech Obama gave, where he famously said that:
If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.


That quote has gotten tons of traction and is causing serious damage to the President's re-election campaign because, if accurate, it reveals a great deal about how he thinks, and how he sees America.

But is it true? Are those two lines an accurate characterization of Obama's attitude towards business and success?

I'm sure it will come as no surprise to anybody that PolitiFact, both the national version and its baby sister here in Tennessee both claim that it is not true, that the quote was taken out of context.

So let's add the context.

The following transcript of Obama's remarks is taken directly from PolitiFact Tennessee's evaluation of Fleischmann's statement and is what they call "the full context":

"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- 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. 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. 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. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

"So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the G.I. Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President -- because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together."


In context, Obama says that being smart does not make you successful because there are a lot of smart people. He goes on to say hard work does not make you successful because there are a lot of hard working people out there. Next, he makes a declarative statement. "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help."

That's the difference maker. Hard work and intelligence don't cut it; you have to get help from somebody else. (Which begs the question, "Who helped Obama?" We don't know because he's sealed all the records, but that's a post for another day.)

And who does Obama see as that helper? Let's go to his speech.

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.

Hmmm. Teachers=government. The American system=government. Roads, bridges and infrastructure=government. It's almost like he is saying that government is the vital factor in success.

Of course he fails to answer a simple question. If access to public schools, and roads is the arbiter of success, and we all have access to those schools and roads, why aren't we all successful? But I digress.

Obama then sums up his position with the famous quote: "If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Apologists, like PolitiFact, claim that Obama was referring to infrastructure by the indefinite article "that," even though the rules of grammar dictate that an indefinite pronoun or article refers to its nearest antecedent, in this case, "business." But the preceding statements he made clearly indicate his belief that the efforts of small business people while not completely irrelevant to the outcome, are not the ultimate arbiter of their success. With that established, there is evidence to support the conclusion that the grammatical reading is also correct in intent; that Obama meant exactly what he said.

But let's dig a little deeper. Giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, let's assume he did mean bridges, schools and other infrastructure. Yes, they are built using state and federal taxes, but who pays those taxes? According to recent data, 52% of American families pay all the federal taxes, while 48% pay none. Road usage taxes(gas taxes, wheel taxes, etc) are paid by everyone, but again, wealthier people pay a higher amount due more miles driven, more cars owned, etc. Businesses who use public infrastructure also pay usage fees and taxes over and above what families pay. And many small businesses operate as sole proprietorships or S corporations which means their business taxes are paid as personal income. Take all these factors together and it is a good bet that small business people do, in fact, build the roads, fund the schools, etc.

So, if we take Obama grammatically, he is wrong, and if we judge him by what his apologists claim he meant to say, he's still wrong.

Let's move on. Maybe there is something in the speech that can override what we've found so far. After all, PolitiFact had to have something to base their "False" evaluation on, right?

"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. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

Ahhhh. The golden moment for the liberal Obama defender! "See, he says we succeed because of our individual initiative!" Yes, he does, but again, he adds that we have to have external support in order to succeed. And then he goes on, driving the point home.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the G.I. Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President -- because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.(Emphasis mine)

Notice something interesting about that list?
G.I Bill...government program
Golden Gate Bridge...government program
Hoover Dam...government program
Internet...government program
Apollo Program...government program
Middle Class...?????

Obama sells the creation of the middle class as due to government programs.

QED.

President Obama clearly believes that the growth of the middle class, and the success of small business is due primarily to the efforts of the government and not to the initiative, efforts, and intelligence of the people who started them. He confirmed that belief several times in the speech, not just in the famous two sentences. The amazing thing is that PolitiFact can quote the speech in full and still not see what it says. I sent an email to the KNS' Steve Ahillen, the editor for this particular episode of PolitiFact.


"Your recent PolitiFact article fails to follow any sort of logic at all. Obama directly stated that the middle class is a creation of the US government. I quote:

"So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the G.I. Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon." (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, the government created the middle class. That is exactly what Fleischmann accused Obama of believing, and you called it false.

You used the same quote I did and apparently never bothered to read it. That, or your partisan myopia prevents you from seeing what you are reading. And if you think I'm mistaking the "we" just look at each example on the list. Every single item was a government project, funded by taxation. Are you going to try to claim that the creation of the middle class is an exception on that list?

Logically, it doesn't work. The only honest interpretation of the entire speech is that government action is responsible for prosperity, and not just responsible, but more important than initiative, intelligence, and hard work.

By the way, since 52% of Americans pay all federal income taxes, it is quite probable that successful people did in fact build the infrastructure, pay for the teachers, etc.

Obama is still wrong.

As are you.


I don't expect a reply. For a fact checking organizations, they are remarkably uncomfortable when confronted with actual facts.
Posted by Rich
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