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.