The Art of "Quotemanship" and "Misquotemanship"

Quoting people accurately is really hard — and you can quote me on that.

The CONTEXT needs to be screwed, bolted, nailed and glued to Obama’s “You didn’t built that” comment

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The Republican National Convention has effectively dismantled an original statement to come up with its “We Built It” campaign. The effort has its foundation in a statement President Barack Obama made in Virginia on July 13. The single sentence that sparked it: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
That statement, on its own, is all the hammer-and-tong-wielding GOP want people to hear.
It begs context.
That’s what Joe Berland of San Rafael, California, called for in a letter published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday (Aug. 30).
In his letter he chastised columnist Debra J. Saunders–who used the one-sentence quote while writing about the convention–for using the sentence, as quoted and shorn of context, in her column on Aug. 29.
Berland says the preceding sentences need to be screwed, bolted, nailed and glued to the “you didn’t build that” statment. He gives it this way:

“Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system…that allowed you to thrive.
“Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business–you didn’t build that.

Berland is saying, of course, the THAT (which the business builder didn’t build) actually refers to the “American system… roads and bridges.”
Berland’s voice-in-the-wilderness plea at the end of his letter bears repeating:

“Our country would be so much greater if we would argue the facts rather than distort the words of our opposition.”

If fairness to Saunders, the Chronicle columnist, I think the well-intentioned letter-writer took her statement a bit out of context, himself. Referring the Tampa convention’s “We Built It” theme, she wrote:

“This is the Republican response to President Obama’s assertion in July that successful people didn’t succeed without help from teachers, mentors and government: ‘If you’ve got a business–you didn’t build that’.”

It certainly would have been easy for her to add that the statement has been taken out of context, but she did provide some of the president’s thinking preceding the quote.
For the record, an editorial in Thursday’s Anniston Star provided more of the context for the Obama statement, from that July 13 speech:

“Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. … 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.”

He then said, according to the White House transcript of the speech (which eliminates some repeated words and expands some contractions for some reason):

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

There’s plenty of opportunity to build, right?

This YouTube clip includes only the “you didn’t build that” statement.

IF you have about 42 minutes, here’s a YouTube presentation of the whole speech.

One Comment

  1. Which is why anyone with a shred of intelligence doesn’t listen to anyone during an election year….

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