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April 22, 2019

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Line of Attack: Is it fair to use Obama’s ‘you didn’t build that’ line against him?

Editor’s note: Line of Attack is a feature that will run each week until the Nov. 6 election. In Line of Attack, we will parse a political attack, looking at the strategy behind it, how the campaign is delivering it and what facts support or refute it. We’ll assign it a rating on the fairness meter: Legit, Eye Roll, Guffaw, Laughable or Outrageous.

Attack: President Barack Obama said: “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Method of delivery: Before the Romney campaign decided to put Obama’s flubbed line in a television commercial, the meme spread across the Internet like a hashtag-fueled wildfire. Romney supporters mocked Obama in sarcastic tweets, accusing him of giving the government credit for building everything from Steve Jobs’ Apple to Noah’s Ark.

Strategy: Obama’s misspoken line plays right into Romney’s central line of attack: that he doesn’t get the American dream of individuals building a prosperous life through individual initiative. It’s an easy mark to accuse Obama of always choosing government over the private sector, further alienating business owners and Main Street America.

Fairness Meter: This is a classic example of cherry-picking a speech for comments to wield as an out-of-context sword in a campaign ad. Yes, Obama flubbed the line, making the Romney campaign’s job much easier.

But here’s the full context of what Obama said: “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 allows 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.”

Obama went on to give credit to “individual initiative” but remarked that success happens “also because we do things together.”

Obama wasn’t talking about “somebody else” building the business. Somebody else built the infrastructure. This Line of Attack is laughable.

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