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Thursday, December 8, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Let’s talk about the other speech.

Yes, Bill Clinton delivered a 48-minute stemwinder to the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night that was so mesmerizing even Republicans praised it. But after the huzzahs for Clinton fade, save a little nod of affirmation for Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a Roman Catholic social justice group. She did not speak long — about seven minutes. Her delivery was not particularly powerful. But with the moral authority of her calling, she did something that has sorely needed doing for some weeks now.

She rebuked “I built that.”

Granted, the rebuke was only implicit: she never specifically mentioned the new GOP slogan of rugged individualism. But it was no less powerful for that.

As should be obvious to any fair observer, this latest spasm of feigned outrage is built upon a lie, i.e., that in a speech in Roanoke, Va., President Obama told business owners they did not build their businesses, that their success was not a product of their own initiative: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”

What Obama actually said in 170 words or so is the same thing Martin Luther King used to say in four: “All life is interrelated.” So if you built a business, said Obama, part of its success is due to the fact that “there was a great teacher somewhere in your life” or that someone sacrificed to “create this unbelievable American system” that allowed you to thrive, or to the fact that “somebody invested in roads and bridges” over which your inventory traveled. Contrary to the GOP narrative, he didn’t deny the importance of initiative. “The point,” he said, “is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

Of course, if it’s true Obama’s comment has been mischaracterized, it’s also true that, contrary to what an inarticulate ad lib and the Democratic spin machine would have you believe, Mitt Romney doesn’t “enjoy firing people.” No surprise there. Building mountain ranges out of sand grains is part and parcel of politics.