Paul R. Lehman, President Obama’s critics on “You didn’t do that,” get it wrong

August 12, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Posted in Bigotry in America, blacks, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, fairness, justice, Prejudice, President, President Obama, Respect for President, whites | 2 Comments
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The “Opinion” writer for The Oklahoman wrote an article recently in which the focus was on a number of individuals—Erie Halliburton, Steve Jobs, Sam Walton, Steve Wozniak and  several others—as examples of businessmen who supposedly were successful through their efforts alone. The article was an attempt to cast aspersions on President Barack Obama’s comment that underscored the fact that no one living in a society becomes successful totally on their own. Many of the President’s critics have “jumped on the band wagon” with regards to his comment. They tried to use his statement to denigrate him by showing individuals who have been successful in business through their efforts only.

Anyone with an iota of common sense fully understood the President’s comment, because in addition to making the statement “You didn’t do that,” he also gave some very clear-cut examples of what he meant. Nonetheless, the article entitled “Walmart, Sara Lee, iPod…Who built those, exactly?” shows just how foolish and simple-minded some people can be in their misguided ignorance.

The article focused on each man and told how each became successful. For example, the article began with the quote: “You didn’t bake that,” and continued by relating how Charles Lubin worked and built his business—Sara Lee. Next, the article stated “You didn’t frac that,” followed by the story of how Erle P. Halliburton began his business and turned in into a gigantic success: what Halliburton started in Duncan, Oklahoma in 1919, with a borrowed wagon and a team of mules, “now employs more than 70,000 people in 80 countries.”

The article continued to identify a number of successful people in business with the intent of proving the President wrong. The writer mockingly noted “Yes, Mr. President, you did say that –in the Roanoke speech—declaring, ‘If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.’” The writer then actually admits to taking words out of context: “And, yes, these words can be taken out of context to score political points.” The writer proceeded to take them out of context: “Yet they precisely reflect the Obama worldview that nothing significant (global enterprises, fracking, the Internet, etc.) can happen unless the government makes it happen.”

The writer of the opinion did not realize that the examples offered in this article proved President Obama’s point. None of these people could have been successful if they lived on an island with few people, no roads or lines of communication, no manufacturers to provide equipment needed to create a business, no people to purchase the goods and/or services produced. In essence, what the President said was correct—the gifts made possible and available to individuals living in a society are vital and necessary for the making of a successful business.

The arguments put forth in criticism of the President’s statement totally ignored his point–as members of a social community all members contribute to its well-being. The focus of the President’s statement was not on the governments—local, state, and national—impact on an individual’s business success, but on the contributions of those communities in being part of that success. Unless an individual can lay claim to producing the materials that went into the manufacturing of his/her goods or services, creating the advertisement, clientele, marketing, distribution, and  delivery of the business, then the concept of doing it all by one’s self is a myth. Lubin did not grow or produce the ingredients that went into making his cheesecake, somebody else did that.

What the writer forgot to include in the examples of the successful business people was the process involved in becoming successful. That process would have shown all the necessary goods and services that contribute to the businesses’ success. The President was correct in paying tribute to all the men and women who used their mind and talents to create the ideas and plans for their businesses, but we know that building a successful business is not a one person process.

The point President Obama made in stating “You didn’t do that,” is simply what he meant in the context of people living in a society. For all the President’s  critics who try to make his comments appear to discredit successful business people and attempt to insert the influence and impact of the government as the main source of success, they are just plain wrong. If anyone believes that one person can build a successful business alone, they need to first understand that the primary objective of any business is to make a profit. How does one make a business and a profit alone?

President Obama in making the statement “You didn’t do that,” was simply trying to underscore the power and opportunities available to the individual living and working in a society together with others. His critics try to find fault in the statement by claiming he is not giving praise and credit to the individuals whose ideas, hard work, and dedication helped to bring them success. Their image of a successful person resembles that on the rough and tough individual who all alone met challenges and overcame them, like the earlier pioneers. They forgot that even the Lone Ranger had a companion in Tonto. The President presented a picture of the individual with an idea working in a society that is supportive of the individual and his or her ideas. In essence, in a society is where people can experience more success by working together rather than each individual trying to go his or her way alone.

What was it about the President’s statement that his critics didn’t get?



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  1. One of the President’s weaknesses is that he hasn’t mastered making soundbites. As a result, soundbites are often made for him by his critics, because they often sound terrible without the missing context. I don’t think this one will hurt him so badly, because Romney has made a similar point before.

  2. Trying to create an image of your opponent from their statements is a legitimate campaign tactic. Manipulating the statement to create a false negative image is dishonest and reeks of desperation. I believe it almost always backfires.

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