July 19, 2012

TIM CAVANAUGH ON THE DEMS’ BACKPEDALING: How “You didn’t build that” became “He didn’t say that.”

What do you do when everybody’s claiming your president said something, and you just know he didn’t really say it, but all the video and all the audio and all the transcripts show that he did say it?

This is the dilemma faced by supporters of President Obama in the long wake of last week’s “You didn’t build that” speech. . . .

The popularization of Derridaian post-modernism since the 1990s has generally been a lot of fun, turning mainstream Americans into sharp observers of signs and meaning who are sure that either there’s nothing outside the text or everything is outside the text or both. But at some point it helps to look at that thing above the subtext, which is generally known as “the text.” Up to this point the presidential election has been Obama vs. Obama Junior. With “You didn’t build that,” which his campaign has made no effort to clarify or redirect, the president has drawn a line in the sand.

There is no nebulousness here. Beyond the paragraph quoted above, Obama calls government spending “the investments that grow our economy.” He ridicules the tendency of Americans to brag about being hard workers with a variant of “So’s your old man.” (“Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.”) He instinctively names “a great teacher” when looking for somebody to credit for causing success in the working world. The president has boldly presented his view on how an economy works. His supporters should give him the respect of taking his words seriously.

Well, they would, except for their strong intuition that those words will lose.

Plus, from the comments: “The most obnoxious aspect of Obama’s speech isn’t even the contempt he expressed for individual accomplishment. It’s the crass, sad attempt to appeal to communitarian emotions, even though the small-scale communities where this spirit flourishes are largely populated by the ‘bitter clingers’ he despises.”

Also: “They’re in a panic because Obama stupidly said exactly what he and each and every one of them is thinking.”