Commentary Magazine


Topic: You didn’t build that

President Obama’s Twice-Told Tale

As Alana noted, President Obama told a forum in Florida yesterday that the “most important lesson” he’s learned since taking office is that “you can’t change Washington from the inside.” You can only change it “from the outside.”

But this is not something he learned since taking office. He knew it four years ago, having learned it from “history.” In his acceptance speech in 2008, he told the Democratic convention that:

“You have shown what history teaches us, that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens — change happens because the American people demand it, because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time. America, this is one of those moments.”

Read More

As Alana noted, President Obama told a forum in Florida yesterday that the “most important lesson” he’s learned since taking office is that “you can’t change Washington from the inside.” You can only change it “from the outside.”

But this is not something he learned since taking office. He knew it four years ago, having learned it from “history.” In his acceptance speech in 2008, he told the Democratic convention that:

“You have shown what history teaches us, that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens — change happens because the American people demand it, because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time. America, this is one of those moments.”

Back when he first noted the lesson that change came to Washington, not from Washington, change was something produced by “defining moments” — such as the night he clinched the Democratic nomination (which he called a “defining moment” — the “moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”); or the night he was elected (which he called a “defining moment” — when “change has come to America”); or the day he was inaugurated (which he called “a moment that will define a generation”). The change-producing moments were his nomination, election, and inauguration. He was change personified.

Four years after the generation-defining moment, he teaches what he has purportedly learned from the last four years, but it is what four years ago he said history had already taught him. It is the same lesson both times, but this time the lesson is offered not as a reason to elect him, but as an excuse for what he has failed to do since he was elected. The underlying message is the opposite of the prior one: this time it is don’t blame him — change comes from outside.

That dismal record of mine, he seems to be saying — I didn’t build that.

Read Less

Is Warren’s Class Warfare Working?

The disconnect between the polls that show Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in a dead heat and the media conventional wisdom desperately pronouncing Obama the easy victor is being turned on its head in the Massachusetts Senate race. There, it is Republican Scott Brown that seems to be running the better campaign, yet the polls are starting to show a consistent lead by his challenger, Elizabeth Warren.

Though Brown’s approval rating is no longer the stratospheric 73 percent it was only last year according to a Democratic committee poll, he is still above water at 55 percent among registered voters and 57 percent among likely voters. A new poll shows Massachusetts voters think Brown is running the more positive campaign, 35 percent to 21 for Warren. And Brown’s strong ties to the state are not lost on voters, nor is Warren’s lack of same; only 13 percent of voters think she has a strong connection to the state. Brown’s approval rating among independents is 67 percent and 30 percent among Democrats. So what’s causing Brown’s poll slide?

Read More

The disconnect between the polls that show Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in a dead heat and the media conventional wisdom desperately pronouncing Obama the easy victor is being turned on its head in the Massachusetts Senate race. There, it is Republican Scott Brown that seems to be running the better campaign, yet the polls are starting to show a consistent lead by his challenger, Elizabeth Warren.

Though Brown’s approval rating is no longer the stratospheric 73 percent it was only last year according to a Democratic committee poll, he is still above water at 55 percent among registered voters and 57 percent among likely voters. A new poll shows Massachusetts voters think Brown is running the more positive campaign, 35 percent to 21 for Warren. And Brown’s strong ties to the state are not lost on voters, nor is Warren’s lack of same; only 13 percent of voters think she has a strong connection to the state. Brown’s approval rating among independents is 67 percent and 30 percent among Democrats. So what’s causing Brown’s poll slide?

Alex Burns thinks it’s the natural outgrowth of running as a Republican in a deep blue state: “It’s a state so strongly Democratic that the 2010 GOP wave had little impact there, and where Brown’s 14-point lead among independents in the WBUR still leaves him trailing by 5 points overall,” he writes. That’s true: the MassLive.com report on Brown’s approval notes that he gets 92 percent support from his own party, but that only represents about one in every ten Massachusetts voters.

There’s another possibility, however, and it’s one that should concern the Brown campaign. Warren is this campaign season’s original class warrior. It was her pro-government rant that laid the ground work for Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and she is only running for the Senate because the GOP blocked Democrats’ original plan for her: as the head of a new consumer watchdog bureaucracy. And true to form, her current advertising campaign attacks Brown for sticking up for private industry and business owners while Brown ties Warren to Occupy Wall Street.

But that may play right into Warren’s hands. The Boston Globe reports that Warren’s populism may be working:

In the survey, 39 percent of likely voters believed Warren “will stand up for regular people when in the Senate,” an improvement from 30 percent from a poll in February.

On the same question, Brown’s support dropped to 29 percent from 33 percent.

In what the station described as a sign that Warren’s campaign themes seem to be resonating with voters, the poll found that 35 percent of voters view Warren as the candidate who best “understands the needs of middle-class families.” Only 27 percent said that phrase described Brown.

That “regular people” question showed a 13-point swing. The fallout from Romney’s fundraiser remarks may be overstated by the media, but if the GOP gets successfully tagged as the party for the rich, Brown will be put in the uncomfortable position of having to either distance himself from his party’s presidential ticket or struggle to fight Warren’s class warfare. Brown probably never expected to be in this situation; he’s the pickup-driving local guy and Warren is the tenured Harvard professor from out of state. In almost every way, Brown is running the superior campaign. But if Warren has the right message, that might be all the overwhelmingly liberal electorate there is looking for.

Read Less

Business Owners Disapprove of Obama

Via today’s Gallup, President Obama’s approval rating among business owners dropped significantly during the second quarter:

Business owners were the sole group that became significantly less approving, with their second-quarter approval of 35% reflecting a decline from 41% in the first quarter.

While there are too few respondents in some occupational groups to report their approval ratings by month, the internal data suggest the decline in business owners’ approval of Obama came for the most part between March and April, with approval holding at a lower rate since then. The data precede Obama’s much-discussed July 13 comments that small-business owners have had help from others to achieve success. Thus it is not yet clear whether those comments have led to further deterioration in Obama’s standing among small-business owners.

It’s interesting that the decline began in March and April, as the Obama campaign didn’t really start the full-on attacks on private equity until May. But if you recall, March and April were the Democratic Party’s “war on women” months, which certainly could have turned off business owners who aren’t thrilled with the federal government infringing on the religious beliefs of private employers.

Read More

Via today’s Gallup, President Obama’s approval rating among business owners dropped significantly during the second quarter:

Business owners were the sole group that became significantly less approving, with their second-quarter approval of 35% reflecting a decline from 41% in the first quarter.

While there are too few respondents in some occupational groups to report their approval ratings by month, the internal data suggest the decline in business owners’ approval of Obama came for the most part between March and April, with approval holding at a lower rate since then. The data precede Obama’s much-discussed July 13 comments that small-business owners have had help from others to achieve success. Thus it is not yet clear whether those comments have led to further deterioration in Obama’s standing among small-business owners.

It’s interesting that the decline began in March and April, as the Obama campaign didn’t really start the full-on attacks on private equity until May. But if you recall, March and April were the Democratic Party’s “war on women” months, which certainly could have turned off business owners who aren’t thrilled with the federal government infringing on the religious beliefs of private employers.

Note that this poll was taken before Obama’s “you didn’t build that” flap. At HotAir, Ed Morrissey wonders whether this means Obama doesn’t have much to lose:

Business owners obviously weren’t terribly enamored of Obama even before the “you didn’t build that” comment. That prompts a question as to whether the anger it stokes among entrepreneurs will really do that much damage to Obama. He might lose a big chunk of the 35% of business owners that approved of him in the second quarter, but the class-warfare tactic could help to improve his standing in other categories.

I think Obama was already prepared to take a hit with business owners, after his support for raising taxes on high-income earners, and of course the regulatory burdens of ObamaCare. That was the whole point of his “you didn’t build that” populism — to pit the public against the “business owners” who supposedly aren’t paying their fair share. The problem was, he slipped up and his comments came off as aggressive class warfare instead of a call for “fairness.” Most Americans don’t own businesses, and yet most Americans have an appreciation for business owners and entrepreneurs. Many would probably like to own their own business someday.

So while Obama can probably get away with saying business owners should pay more in taxes, he can’t get away with crediting government for their achievements. It’s not business owners who Obama lost with that speech, it’s the wide swath of the public that admires them and hopes to fulfill their own entrepreneurial dreams one day.

Read Less

Is Assault on Romney’s Small Business Record a Wise Move?

BuzzFeed reports the Democratic National Committee is planning to go “nuclear” over the attacks on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and launch a major assault on Mitt Romney’s small business record:

DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse outlined an all-out response to Mitt Romney’s attack on President Obama over his “You didn’t build this” line — which the president and independent fact checkers have said has been taken out of context.

“In conjunction with OFA, we’re going to turn the page tomorrow on Mitt Romney’s trumped up, out of context fact-checked-to-death BS about the president and small business and set the record straight on how Mitt Romney has a horrible record on small business,” Woodhouse said in a memo sent to BuzzFeed, saying there will be on-the-ground events across the country — including in Massachusetts — to rebut Romney’s attack.

Read More

BuzzFeed reports the Democratic National Committee is planning to go “nuclear” over the attacks on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, and launch a major assault on Mitt Romney’s small business record:

DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse outlined an all-out response to Mitt Romney’s attack on President Obama over his “You didn’t build this” line — which the president and independent fact checkers have said has been taken out of context.

“In conjunction with OFA, we’re going to turn the page tomorrow on Mitt Romney’s trumped up, out of context fact-checked-to-death BS about the president and small business and set the record straight on how Mitt Romney has a horrible record on small business,” Woodhouse said in a memo sent to BuzzFeed, saying there will be on-the-ground events across the country — including in Massachusetts — to rebut Romney’s attack.

You can tell this is a moment of desperation for the DNC, because Obama has plenty of weaknesses in his own small business record. Let’s not even get into the fact that the tax cuts for small businesses that he always touts are actually far less than meets the eye. Hasn’t Obama been arguing for months that the tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 should be allowed to expire? The Heritage Foundation crunched the numbers and found that small business owners in that income bracket could end up paying an average of $24,888 in additional taxes under Obama’s proposals:

They are right to be concerned. According to calculations by The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis (CDA), the average American with $250,000 or more in income can expect an average $24,888 tax increase next year under Obama’s proposed policies.

The $24,888 figure is often enough for a salary, and despite what some proponents of the tax hike have argued, many of these successful small businesses do have employees. According to the Treasury Department, 1.2 million small businesses both had employees and earned more than $200,000 in 2007. So the president is putting about 1.2 million jobs—perhaps even more—at risk with this tax hike.

Then there’s Obama’s health care law, which is expected to increase health care costs and the regulatory burden for small businesses. The cost of complying with government regulations is a growing problem under the Obama administration, as the Fiscal Times has reported:

The Business Roundtable just released a list of 60 major new pending rules and regulations from the federal government – all of which may dampen economic activity. The NFIB is so worried about the uncertainty created by Obama’s legislative tsunami that it is supporting the Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act, a bill that would prohibit important new regulations from taking effect before the unemployment rate drops to 6 percent or for two years, whichever is shorter. Embracing such a “time-out” would be an excellent move for the embattled White House, and most definitely for the country.

The Obama campaign is obviously anxious to get back on offense, but picking this particular fight is only going to end up emphasizing Obama’s own weaknesses.

Read Less

Obama’s “I’m Not a Witch” Moment

I’m not sure who recommended that Obama cut an ad insisting that “of course” he believes business owners should get credit for building their own businesses. But this seems like a very bad move:

Read More

I’m not sure who recommended that Obama cut an ad insisting that “of course” he believes business owners should get credit for building their own businesses. But this seems like a very bad move:

If there was one takeaway from Christine O’Donnell’s disastrous campaign ad, it’s that this isn’t the way to push back on an attack. When a politician goes on camera to deny a provocative charge that can’t be substantiated either way (i.e. that they don’t engage in witchcraft, or that they believe in individual enterprise) it connects them with the allegation they’re denying and can raise a seed of doubt in voters’ minds.

Typically, when you’re trying to explain that someone took your recorded words out of context, you would simply just play the words in context — that usually settles it. Obama doesn’t do that in this video, which is the biggest red flag for any viewer. They’ve heard Obama’s quote with their own ears in Romney’s ad. If it was taken out of context, why doesn’t Obama’s ad just include it in context?

The second problem is that Obama is elevating Romney’s attacks and bringing more attention to a speech that is out of touch with the general public’s views on business. The ad directs viewers to the Obama campaign website, where they can view the speech for themselves — and will see on their own that the president did say what he claims he did not.

Read Less

Obama Video on “Context” Doesn’t Even Play Speech Clip

The Obama campaign is pushing back against attacks on the president’s “you didn’t build that” remark with a new web video claiming the Romney campaign took the line “out of context.” Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter says the following:

“Mitt Romney recently launched a new TV ad that blatantly twists President Obama’s words on small business owners and entrepreneurs. Romney’s not telling the truth about what the president said and is taking the president’s words out of context. Romney claims the president told entrepreneurs they didn’t build their own businesses. Actually, he didn’t say that. And even the Washington Post called this attack ‘ridiculous.’ Anyone who’s seen the president’s actual remarks knows the truth. The president said that together, Americans built the free enterprise system that we all benefit from.”

Cutter then goes on to defend Obama’s record on small businesses, but doesn’t even play a clip of his comments in whatever “context” she claims is missing from Romney’s ad. Instead, viewers are asked to click a link over to the Obama website if they want to see it. Why? Probably because the campaign knows the context sounds just as bad as the line in question.

Mitt Romney touched on this point in one of his strongest interviews of the campaign so far:

Read More

The Obama campaign is pushing back against attacks on the president’s “you didn’t build that” remark with a new web video claiming the Romney campaign took the line “out of context.” Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter says the following:

“Mitt Romney recently launched a new TV ad that blatantly twists President Obama’s words on small business owners and entrepreneurs. Romney’s not telling the truth about what the president said and is taking the president’s words out of context. Romney claims the president told entrepreneurs they didn’t build their own businesses. Actually, he didn’t say that. And even the Washington Post called this attack ‘ridiculous.’ Anyone who’s seen the president’s actual remarks knows the truth. The president said that together, Americans built the free enterprise system that we all benefit from.”

Cutter then goes on to defend Obama’s record on small businesses, but doesn’t even play a clip of his comments in whatever “context” she claims is missing from Romney’s ad. Instead, viewers are asked to click a link over to the Obama website if they want to see it. Why? Probably because the campaign knows the context sounds just as bad as the line in question.

Mitt Romney touched on this point in one of his strongest interviews of the campaign so far:

Romney doesn’t even engage the question of whether Obama was referring to businesses or infrastructure. As he says, it’s besides the point. According to Romney, the context tells you all you need to know about Obama’s business philosophy:

We have always been a nation that has celebrated success of various kinds. The kid that gets the honor roll, the individual worker that gets a promotion, the person that gets a better job. And in fact, the person that builds a business. And by the way, if you have a business and you started it, you did build it. And you deserve credit for that. It was not built for you by government. And by the way, we pay for government. Government doesn’t come free. The people who begin enterprises, the people who work in enterprises, they’re the ones paying for government. The people who begin enterprises, the people who work in enterprises, they’re the ones paying for government. So his whole philosophy is an upside-down philosophy that does not comport with the American experience.

Fighting back over the “context” issue may not be the smartest move for the Obama campaign. As Romney says, Obama’s philosophy puts him very much at odds with most Americans, and it’s baffling why the president would want to draw more attention to that.

Read Less

If Obama Had Been Talking About Olympians….

Think Progress dug up an old quote from Mitt Romney saying that Olympians succeeded with help from the community, and the left is predictably trying to equate it with President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech. Here’s the excerpt from Romney’s speech:

“Tonight we cheer the Olympians, who only yesterday were children themselves,” Romney said. “As we watch them over the next 16 days, we affirm that our aspirations, and those of our children and grandchildren, can become reality. We salute you Olympians – both because you dreamed and because you paid the price to make your dreams real. You guys pushed yourself, drove yourself, sacrificed, trained and competed time and again at winning and losing.”

“You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power,” said Romney, who on Friday will attend the Opening Ceremonies of this year’s Summer Olympics. “For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities. All right! [pumps fist].”

The comparisons between Romney’s Olympics comments and Obama’s businesses comments are absurd on multiple levels. Romney isn’t arguing that we should tax Olympian salaries at higher rates to pay for more coaches and athletic venues for other athletes. He is making a moral argument for modesty and gratitude, not a political argument for wealth redistribution.

Read More

Think Progress dug up an old quote from Mitt Romney saying that Olympians succeeded with help from the community, and the left is predictably trying to equate it with President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech. Here’s the excerpt from Romney’s speech:

“Tonight we cheer the Olympians, who only yesterday were children themselves,” Romney said. “As we watch them over the next 16 days, we affirm that our aspirations, and those of our children and grandchildren, can become reality. We salute you Olympians – both because you dreamed and because you paid the price to make your dreams real. You guys pushed yourself, drove yourself, sacrificed, trained and competed time and again at winning and losing.”

“You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power,” said Romney, who on Friday will attend the Opening Ceremonies of this year’s Summer Olympics. “For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities. All right! [pumps fist].”

The comparisons between Romney’s Olympics comments and Obama’s businesses comments are absurd on multiple levels. Romney isn’t arguing that we should tax Olympian salaries at higher rates to pay for more coaches and athletic venues for other athletes. He is making a moral argument for modesty and gratitude, not a political argument for wealth redistribution.

Romney also didn’t imply that Olympians have been mooching off society without paying their fair share, which was how Obama framed his speech. Still, let’s try a thought experiment. Here’s what it might have sounded like if Obama’s speech had been directed at Olympians instead of business owners:

Look, if you’re an Olympian, 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 athletically gifted.’ There are a lot of athletically gifted people out there. ‘It must be because I trained harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hard-training people out there. (Applause.)

If you’re an Olympian, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great coach 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’re competing in the Olympics — you didn’t do that. Somebody else made that happen.

The fallacies in the speech become even more clear when you think about this in terms of athletic success. It’s one thing to say people should be grateful for the help they receive from their parents and community. It’s another to say that the successful among us only got that way through sheer luck — not brains, not hard work — and therefore owe a massive debt to the giant societal lottery pool.

Read Less

Brown Camp Hits Warren’s Own “You Didn’t Build That” Moment

Politico’s James Hohmann points readers of his “Morning Score” to a two-and-a-half minute web ad the Scott Brown campaign will deploy against Elizabeth Warren. It capitalizes on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line by tying it to Warren, who made similar comments earlier in the campaign. It’s a powerful ad, using audio and video of Democratic presidents–Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton–as well as a few Republicans to drive home the extent to which the current Democratic Party has veered leftward, away from historically bipartisan agreement on the virtue of private industry.

The video then shows Obama delivering his infamous line, and closes with Warren’s–a much harsher version. Warren is frowning, raising her voice, and pointing fingers; as a demagogue, she puts Obama to shame (and that’s saying something). The contention that the Democratic Party has moved left is rather obvious; no one believes that Harry Truman, with his overt religiosity and lack of a college education, could earn the modern Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Equally out of place would be John Kennedy, simultaneously cutting taxes across the board–including for the rich–while promising that we would “pay any price, bear any burden” for the cause of liberty and to ensure the survival of “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”

Read More

Politico’s James Hohmann points readers of his “Morning Score” to a two-and-a-half minute web ad the Scott Brown campaign will deploy against Elizabeth Warren. It capitalizes on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line by tying it to Warren, who made similar comments earlier in the campaign. It’s a powerful ad, using audio and video of Democratic presidents–Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton–as well as a few Republicans to drive home the extent to which the current Democratic Party has veered leftward, away from historically bipartisan agreement on the virtue of private industry.

The video then shows Obama delivering his infamous line, and closes with Warren’s–a much harsher version. Warren is frowning, raising her voice, and pointing fingers; as a demagogue, she puts Obama to shame (and that’s saying something). The contention that the Democratic Party has moved left is rather obvious; no one believes that Harry Truman, with his overt religiosity and lack of a college education, could earn the modern Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Equally out of place would be John Kennedy, simultaneously cutting taxes across the board–including for the rich–while promising that we would “pay any price, bear any burden” for the cause of liberty and to ensure the survival of “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”

But everyone knows the end of Johnson’s administration was the end of an era for the Democrats. It’s the consistent appearance of a living ex-president, Bill Clinton, that marks current GOP messaging strategy. The sudden appreciation for the opposing party’s past standard-bearers is common to both the Democrats and Republicans. Once they were pinko commies and neo-fascists, now they are centrist Democrats and compassionate Republicans. Even Bush saw the need for comprehensive immigration reform, says one. Even Clinton signed welfare reform, says the other.

But Clinton polls better among the nation and his own party than Bush, so he will find a place for himself in this campaign on both sides. Democrats will ask him to campaign for them, preferring him to Obama. Republicans will remind Democrats at every turn just how “reasonable” Clinton was compared to Obama. Mitt Romney hit this theme after Obama’s heavy-handed attempt to gut welfare reform by executive fiat:

“President Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from welfare,” Romney said.  “The success of bipartisan welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, has rested on the obligation of work. The president’s action is completely misdirected. Work is a dignified endeavor, and the linkage of work and welfare is essential to prevent welfare from becoming a way of life.”

The Brown campaign’s video is only the latest, but almost surely not the last, time voters will see the GOP attempt to plant a flag on centrist territory abandoned by Obama. Because of Obama’s lack of private-sector experience, and Warren’s apparent attempt to claim minority status–paired with an inability to substantiate that claim–to get ahead in the academic world, the two make easy targets for such ads. Their opponents can criticize them not only for saying such nonsense, but for believing it too.

Read Less

Government Didn’t Build That Internet

The shooting attack in Aurora, Colorado, was the sort of news event that stopped the political world dead in its tracks. Despite the initial attempts of some foolish journalists and politicians, the slaughter didn’t fit into any convenient political narrative, but it did benefit President Obama in two ways. The first was that it demonstrated again the advantage of incumbency in which a sitting president is called upon to represent the feelings of all Americans. In this case, Obama’s performance as mourner-in-chief reminded us of his rhetorical strengths as well as the potent symbolism of his presidency.

The other benefit he received was that the killings pushed his “you didn’t build that” gaffe out of the spotlight for at least a couple of days. That relieved liberal pundits of the burden of twisting themselves into pretzels while attempting to argue that Obama didn’t really mean that the government was more important than individual effort in creating businesses. The pause in the parsing of the president’s all-too-revealing comment will only be temporary, as the Romney campaign will be reminding us of it for the next three months. But just as important as the “what did he mean by that” debate is an effort to understand just how wrong the president is about big government’s role in paving the way for business success. Gordon Crovitz writes today in the Wall Street Journal, taking aim at one of the central planks in Obama’s spiel in which he claimed “Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet.” Not true. The Internet was primarily the work of private business initiative in which federal involvement was conspicuous by its absence.

As Crovitz writes:

It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike. The truth is a more interesting story about how innovation happens—and about how hard it is to build successful technology companies even once the government gets out of the way.

Read More

The shooting attack in Aurora, Colorado, was the sort of news event that stopped the political world dead in its tracks. Despite the initial attempts of some foolish journalists and politicians, the slaughter didn’t fit into any convenient political narrative, but it did benefit President Obama in two ways. The first was that it demonstrated again the advantage of incumbency in which a sitting president is called upon to represent the feelings of all Americans. In this case, Obama’s performance as mourner-in-chief reminded us of his rhetorical strengths as well as the potent symbolism of his presidency.

The other benefit he received was that the killings pushed his “you didn’t build that” gaffe out of the spotlight for at least a couple of days. That relieved liberal pundits of the burden of twisting themselves into pretzels while attempting to argue that Obama didn’t really mean that the government was more important than individual effort in creating businesses. The pause in the parsing of the president’s all-too-revealing comment will only be temporary, as the Romney campaign will be reminding us of it for the next three months. But just as important as the “what did he mean by that” debate is an effort to understand just how wrong the president is about big government’s role in paving the way for business success. Gordon Crovitz writes today in the Wall Street Journal, taking aim at one of the central planks in Obama’s spiel in which he claimed “Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet.” Not true. The Internet was primarily the work of private business initiative in which federal involvement was conspicuous by its absence.

As Crovitz writes:

It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike. The truth is a more interesting story about how innovation happens—and about how hard it is to build successful technology companies even once the government gets out of the way.

It was researchers at the Xerox Corporation who developed the Ethernet to link different computer networks, the first personal computer and the first graphical user interface. They did so because they couldn’t wait for the government to connect the different computer networks that existed in the 1970s. Government researchers were burdened by regulations and rules that inhibited innovation and flexibility that private companies did not — and still don’t — suffer from.

But, as Crovitz points out, Xerox’s failure to profit from its innovation highlights why the top-down government model doesn’t create business success. Solely focused on promoting its lucrative copier business, Xerox didn’t know what it had and wound up letting Steve Jobs and Apple take advantage of the concepts they had created.

As Crovitz concludes:

As for the government’s role, the Internet was fully privatized in 1995, when a remaining piece of the network run by the National Science Foundation was closed—just as the commercial Web began to boom. Economist Tyler Cowen wrote in 2005: “The Internet, in fact, reaffirms the basic free market critique of large government. Here for 30 years the government had an immensely useful protocol for transferring information, TCP/IP, but it languished. … In less than a decade, private concerns have taken that protocol and created one of the most important technological revolutions of the millennia.”

It’s important to understand the history of the Internet because it’s too often wrongly cited to justify big government. It’s also important to recognize that building great technology businesses requires both innovation and the skills to bring innovations to market. As the contrast between Xerox and Apple shows, few business leaders succeed in this challenge. Those who do—not the government—deserve the credit for making it happen.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.