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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

The flap over President Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” gaffe — playing endlessly in TV ads and sure to be a major theme of the Republican National Convention in late August — is at once sillier and more significant than it seems.

It’s sillier because fair-minded observers — including neutral fact-checking referees — agree that the president’s words are shamelessly being taken out of context. For Romney to base so much of his campaign on bogus editing is lame.

Yet the uproar is significant because — properly framed — this election offers a stark choice between do-it-yourself libertarianism and Whig capitalism, between Ayn Rand and Warren Buffett.

Here’s what the president actually said in Roanoke, Virginia, on July 13:

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.

Obama’s awkward “that” referred to “roads and bridges,” not businesses. But the president wasn’t at his best that day, to put it mildly. He needed to match his point about collaborative success with paeans to those he saluted in his inaugural address (and in many other speeches) as “the risk takers, the doers, the makers of things.” His failure to bring business executives into his White House and use them as surrogates means he has to handle damage control on his own, which looks bad.

But the comment — in any context — was hardly the insult “to every entrepreneur and every innovator in America” that Romney alleges. The Republicans who pounced on this misstep remind me of Democrats who took Romney’s “I like being able to fire people” line as proof that he enjoys laying off workers. It was no such thing, as even the Obama campaign recognized. Romney was simply referring to the consumer’s ability to fire insurance companies that provide poor service.

These gaffes don’t open a window on the values of the candidates, only on the vapidity of the process.

Still, a larger question has been left dangling: Was the president right that business has received critical help from the government over the years?

On this, the evidence is in. Alexander Hamilton’s federally chartered Bank of the United States; the Whig “internal improvements” of the early Republic; the transcontinental railroad; the land-grant colleges; the Interstate Highway System; the Internet and other government-backed transportation, communications and education endeavors aren’t just examples of “government spending” long supported by both parties. They have proved essential to the creation of thousands of small enterprises.

All major energy sources have received government help in one form or another, as have aviation, biotech, real estate and scores of other industries. Even companies that don’t get direct assistance from the federal government receive plenty of downstream benefits through the tax code.

We all should know that business can’t thrive without an educated workforce and the fair application of the rule of law. Even regulation — the bogeyman of conservative business interests — is a necessary condition of a stable business culture. The countries with the least regulation have the most corruption, and vice versa.

Romney may understand this but the party that he represents doesn’t.

Republicans in Congress have moved repeatedly to strip away the underpinnings of a productive business environment: When it comes to education, they favor slashing student loans and research funding for higher education; on infrastructure, they oppose many construction and transportation projects that many conservatives supported until recently; on immigration, they oppose comprehensive reform that business backs as essential to a dynamic workforce, and on transparency, they oppose the Disclose Act, which would help expose the kind of crony capitalism that rots society.

The Republican agenda is essentially a down payment on a libertarian America in all areas except defense and national security. (Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, whose budget is the party’s tax-and-spending blueprint, is a longtime devotee of Ayn Rand). Anyone who doubts this should read the Ryan plan, which guts social programs for the poor to pay for another 20 percent tax cut for the rich and does nothing to balance the budget. It passed the House twice and could become law if Romney wins the White House and the Senate goes Republican.

Romney said the president’s gaffes reflected his “strange” views, and supporters such as former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu said such beliefs were “un-American.” In fact, it’s the DIY libertarians — who deny our 223-year nexus between government and business — who are out of sync with U.S. history.

Buffett, an Obama supporter, likes to say he’s a member of “the lucky sperm club.” He notes that if he were born under a different system, he couldn’t have been as successful.

Like it or not, our private sector has always operated with at least some indirect government help. And it’s perfectly legitimate for the president to point that out.

(Jonathan Alter is a Bloomberg View columnist and the author of “The Promise: President Obama, Year One.” The opinions expressed are his own.)

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]