Lies, Damn Lies, and Obama Doublespeak

“If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen”  (larger quote below)

The president had another “Joe the plumber” moment.  He got off his teleprompter, and revealed the depth of his lack of understanding of main street USA.  Or did he?  Adam Gopnik (link below) in The New Yorker defends the President, claiming:

“What President Obama was saying was perfectly clear: the “that” in his statement refers to the bridges and roads and ‘this unbelievable American system.'”

Gopnik claims that conservatives are distorting what the President said.  See, this great orator, this brilliant scholar, what he said, well, we conservatives are all too stupid to understand.  I think it is pretty clear what the President said, and I study language.  But, we love our country, and we love to give our President the benefit of the doubt, so lets look closely at this, shall we?

Here is the extended Obama quote:  “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.”

If this were written by a fourth grader, I might be willing to believe “that” referred to “roads and bridges”.  English is a complicated language, and those who are not masters of the language are prone to misspeak.  The President is no such amateur.  Normal linguistic structure would indicate “that” refers to “business”.

It is possible “that” was intended to refer to “roads and bridges” and the President misspoke.  However, there is a “that” in the next sentence–“somebody else made that happen”.  Somebody else made roads and bridges happen?  Nope.  Sorry.  It only fits with “business”.  It almost works with “this unbelievable American system”, but you would not say “Somebody else” made this unbelievable American system, you would say:  _Many_people_ were involved in the creation of this American system.  The more you think about it, the less believable it is that the President meant anything other than “You didn’t build that [business]”.

Really.  We heard what he said.  He said it.  We know why he wants to claim he didn’t say it, but he said it.  Even his stalwart supporters think it was a dumb thing to say.  So they are left trying to deny it.  Their denials are more lies and doublespeak.  We cannot let ourselves get used to lies and doublespeak as the norm.  We need to call it what it is.

Next week, I will discuss the reasons why “that” cannot be inferred to have meant “the internet”.

link to The New Yorker   http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2012/07/barack-mitt-and-adam-smith.html