First, let's remember exactly what Obama said, in full context:
“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.”
Grammatically, Obama said that you didn't build your business. He should fire his teleprompter. In context, he was clearly trying to say that as a small business owner, you didn't build the roads, infrastructure, the American system, or the education system.
I think we can all agree on that.
So let's look at what Obama meant to say and see if it holds up. Let's start with a simple story.
John and Tim are two 12 year old boys looking for something to do for the summer. They look around the neighborhood and notice that they can get to a convenience store quicker by cutting through an undeveloped wooded area than by walking alongside the road. Not only will it be quicker, it will be safer as well. So they spend a few days cutting brush, pulling logs out of the way, filling in ditches and holes, and make a nice path through the woods. Once the path is finished, they walk to the store, and celebrate with a cold soda.
John, who gets an allowance from his father, spends the next few weeks walking to the store, buying candy and soft drinks, and enjoys his summer. Tim, who doesn't get an allowance, decides to do neighborhood chores for money. As he walks from door to door, he finds that there are many residents who want their dogs walked, but are worried that such a young boy might have trouble controlling the dogs on the sidewalk, and that their dog might be in danger of breaking free and getting into the road. Tim tells them that he has a safe place to walk the dogs, the path that he and John built, and on that basis, he gets several customers who pay him to walk the dogs. Tim uses the money he earns to buy candy and soft drinks, and all is well.
Until Tim starts buying comic books as well. He's making more for walking dogs than John is getting in his allowance.
John goes to his father and asks for a raise in his allowance so he can buy comic books too. John's father, wanting his son to have the same things that other boys have, asks questions to find out where Tim is getting his money. When he finds out that Tim is making money from the path the boys built together, he decides that the only fair solution is that Tim should give a portion of his earnings to John.
And this is the Obama position. Tim is using a path built by him and John, and therefore owes John a portion of the proceeds of his work. The fact that JOhn has the same access to the path, the same opportunities to earn additional money by working, or that Tim's income is from work that Tim performs that John has no part in, is irrelevant to John's father.
Read what he said again carefully, and notice something. Obama claims that successful business people did not build the roads. Or the school. Or the American system. He's excluding them from the collective. The truth is exactly opposite. In America, where we ARE the government, we all built the roads. We all pay for schools. We all support and built the American system. That system is the path through the woods, and somebody else didn't build that; we ALL built that. That is the key fallacy in President Obama's philosophy.
We, the people built the path through the woods. The determining factor into how the path is used is not the existence of the path, but the will of the person who walks it.
Even in full context, President Obama is wrong.
We did build that.