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Republicans have been pounding President Barack Obama relentlessly ever since he made remarks about the intersection of business and government during a campaign appearance in Roanoke, Va., on July 13, 2012.
Critics pointed to two lines in the speech to make the case that Obama holds a general disdain for people who create and build businesses.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who represents Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District, offered his own critique of the president’s remarks a few days after Obama set off the firestorm.
"Obama: Small Businesses Succeed Because of Government," screamed the headline from a blog entry that Fleischmann posted on his campaign website on July 17, 2012.
"Having no experience in running a business, President Obama just doesn’t get it," Fleischmann wrote. "In fact, he fights against it. Just recently, he said: ‘If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.’ "
"If you are like me," Fleischmann continued, "you were speechless at the President’s latest arrogant attack on the foundation of the American economy. The President insists on pushing his view of successful businesses in America – that we owe the government for our success."
Asked to explain Fleischmann’s comments, his campaign spokesman, Jordan Powell, said the blog item was built around Obama’s remarks in Roanoke.
"The president seems to think that the government is the engine of success, and Chuck thinks it’s not so – it’s the private sector and hard-working small business owners," Powell said.
Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, has made pretty much the same claim about the president at public events and in several ads. The Republican National Committee and the National Federation of Independent Businesses are among the groups that have released their own videos and statements claiming Obama is out of touch.
The criticism has become so big a threat that Obama’s re-election campaign felt the need to address the issue in a web video titled "Tampered" that quoted media accounts saying the quote had been taken out of context.
We won’t delve into the broader question of what President Obama thinks about businesses. Here, we will simply examine Fleischmann’s claim that, in his campaign speech, Obama was saying "small businesses succeed because of government."
Our colleagues at PolitiFact national have examined similar claims made by Romney and others and given them False rulings. Many of their points are repeated here.
Let’s begin by looking at the full context of Obama’s speech. Here’s what he said:
"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."
When placed in context, it is obvious Obama was making the point that success comes from the combination of "individual initiative" and the fact that "we do things together."
Fleischmann and others who have criticized Obama’s remarks omitted the lead-up to his statement -- that "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."
These words indicate Obama was referring to infrastructure and educational opportunities that were paid for by taxpayers through the government -- things that the President argues establishes a necessary foundation for making private businesses successful.
We think his meaning is clear -- that both business people and government play a role in the American enterprise system, not purely one or the other.
Rep. Fleischmann cherry-picks a quote from President Obama’s remarks to make it appear Obama was being dismissive of businesses and was saying in essence that
"small businesses succeed because of government." But the preceding sentences in Obama’s remarks make clear that he was talking about the importance of government-provided infrastructure and education to the success of private businesses.
Fleischmann also ignores Obama's clear summary of his message, that "the point is ... that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."
By leaving out the "individual initiative" reference, Fleischmann has given a false impression. We rate his statement False.
Chuck Fleischmann blog post, Obama: Small Businesses Succeed Because of Government. You agree?, July 17, 2012
Barack Obama, remarks at a campaign event in Roanoke, Va., July 13, 2012
Jordan Powell, phone interview with PolitiFact, Aug. 1, 2012
Barack Obama, "Tampered" (web video), July 23, 2012
Mitt Romney, prefatory material for the web video "Introducing www.MittRomney.com/BuiltByUs," July 25, 2012
PolitiFact, "Putting Mitt Romney’s attacks on ‘You didn’t build that’ to the Truth-O-Meter," July 26, 2012
PolitiFact, "In context: Obama’s ‘you didn’t build that’ comment," July 18, 2012
Washington Post Fact Checker, "An unoriginal Obama quote, taken out of context," July 23, 2012
FactCheck.org, "‘You Didn’t Build That,’ Uncut and Unedited," July 13, 2012
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