Obama's 'you didn't build that' comment still fueling Romney

Mitt Romney
In this file photo, White House hopeful Mitt Romney addresses a small-business roundtable discussion at Endural, a manufacturer of plastic containers, on July 23, 2012 in Costa Mesa, Calif.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Since President Obama first gave the now-infamous "you didn't build that" speech at a rally on July 13, the phrase has been ubiquitous on the campaign trail.

Rachael Larimore, managing editor at Slate, joined The Daily Circuit Monday to discuss why conservatives rallied against the comment.

Here are the original remarks from Obama in Roanoke, Va :

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.

Since the speech, conservatives and small business owners have taken one piece of the speech, "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that," as a statement against Americans who start businesses.

"This was a good way for [Romney] to reach out and show that he understands these people, that he sympathizes with them and that he will work to get the economy better if he is elected so their businesses can grow," Larimore said.

Scott, a caller from Hibbing, Minn., said he started his business with $10,000 and two credit cards. He said it's not right to give government credit for the country's infrastructure.

"My tax dollars went to pay for those roads and bridges and my parents' tax dollars and my siblings' and my community tax dollars went to pay for those roads and bridges," he said. "So yes, we did build that ourselves."

On Facebook, Alissa Gambrel said Obama was making a case for importance of government and taxes to help businesses succeed.

"The President's point is simply, if we continue to cut taxes, who will build these things next year and next decade?" she wrote. "Are small businesses and individuals ready to take over those responsibilities if you cut the government's ability to do so? There are consequences to cutting taxes beyond the immediate economic stimulus argument. Obama is trying to point out the necessity of taxes and government at some level. In his opinion, it's necessary at a higher level than the Republicans are arguing for."

Simon Johnson, professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, also joined the discussion. He said this controversy hits at one of the major issues in this campaign season.

"I think this is one of the deepest divisions in American political life," he said. "We have long been skeptical of government; that's part of the founding idea of the republic. And we've gone back and forth on how important government should be... This election is, at its heart, very much about competing visions for government."

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MPR News' Alex DiPalma contributed to this report.

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