Obama regrets 'syntax' of 'you didn't build that'
September 6th, 2012
11:52 AM ET
6 years ago

Obama regrets 'syntax' of 'you didn't build that'

(CNN) – President Barack Obama said in an interview Tuesday he regretted the "syntax" of his remarks on small business that have been used ceaselessly by Republicans and formed the central theme of the GOP convention last week.

The so-called "you didn't build that" remark came in July during a campaign stop in Roanoke, Virginia. Obama said, "If you are successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.

He continued, "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."

In the interview with Richmond-based WWBT that aired Wednesday, Obama said that while he regretted how he said those words, he did not regret what he meant by them.

"Obviously, I have regrets for my syntax," Obama said. "But not for the point, because everyone who was there watching knows exactly what I was saying."

Republicans struck upon Obama's remarks almost immediately, and Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, has used the president's words in television commercials, campaign signage, stump speeches, and at last week's convention.

Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan invoked it in his acceptance speech last Wednesday, praising small business owners who show up "to open the door at 5 in the morning."

"Nobody did their thinking, and worrying, and sweating for them," Ryan said. "After all that work, and in a bad economy, it sure doesn't help to hear from their president that government gets the credit. What they deserve to hear is the truth: Yes, you did build that."

Republicans, who portray the "you didn't build that" remark as a revealing slip that speaks to Obama's true feelings on the private sector, say even within context, the president's words are offensive to small business owners.

"The context is worse than the quote," Romney said in July. "The context, he says, you know, you think you've been successful because you're smart, but he says a lot of people are smart. You think you've been successful because you work hard, a lot of people work hard."

Andrea Saul, a Mitt Romney campaign spokeswoman, wrote in a statement that Obama's remarks on "syntax" only demonstrated further "just how out of touch he is with our nation's small-business owners."

CNN's Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

Filed under: Economy • President Obama
soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    What is regretable is that the GOP is basing a large part of their 'message' on a distortion of what President Obama said.
    Correction, the ONLY message the GOP has is distorting everything everything President Obama says and has done.
    And NO solutions to the mess they had their hand in creating.

    September 6, 2012 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  2. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Republican president's debt is well over $12 trillion when you include the unfunded wars, the unfunded tax cuts, the unfunded TARP program, but after all, republican debt doesn't matter?

    September 6, 2012 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    "The GOP solves problems by managing them based on the situation and a plan forward. The Obama Administration has tried to solve problems by buying the answer they want most. You can see how well that has worked. It hasn't."

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA!!!! Two words: Crossroads GPS.

    Who's trying to "buy the answer they most want"???

    September 6, 2012 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  4. demwit

    But, but.., what about all those CNN articles defending Obama's flare and use of those exact words?? I'm so confused..

    September 6, 2012 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  5. quinLee

    It must be torturous for those Republicans with a brain to witness their entire convention platform be based on a distorted “You didn’t build that” phrase, a widely debunked welfare claim (lie), $716b worth of welfare misinformation, and Romney (and now Ryan) doing trampoline flips on every issue. The low information haters love this type of behavior, but it doesn’t bode well for the party OR the country. Sigh, where have all the grown up Republicans gone?

    September 6, 2012 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  6. Johnathan

    Obama should have a draped deficit clock behind him.

    He should unfurl it, then proclaim: "GOP ...you DID build THAT!"

    September 6, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  7. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    ...After all,we all know that what they call compromising in D.C. is what the rest of us would call blackmail.

    September 6, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  8. Jeckers

    He's not sorry for the "syntax" – he's sorry that he revealed his true self....

    September 6, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  9. Guy

    CNN left out the more damning part of the quote, in which Obama derides small-business owners who credit themselves with their success. As was paraphrased by Romney, he told them:

    “I’m always struck by people who think ‘well, it must be because I was just so smart’. There are a lot of smart people out there! ‘It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there!”

    That's not syntax. That's the same tone as in the infamous quote. His point was exactly what the Republicans said it was.

    September 6, 2012 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  10. Four and The Door

    Dominican mama 4 Obama
    ...Correction, the ONLY message the GOP has is distorting everything everything President Obama says and has done.
    And NO solutions to the mess they had their hand in creating.
    The only party offering solutions is the Republican party. What is the Democratic solution to Medicare running out of money as even Bill Clinton pointed out last night? Let it run out? Paul Ryan has come up with a plan that improves Medicare, lowers the cost and sets it up to survive as an efficient and effective program. No response from Democrats except to try and scare seniors that change may happen. But don't forget the runaway national debt. What do the Democrats do about that? Ignore it. Again, Paul Ryan has dealt with it in his national budget without raising taxes on anyone. Democrats have been hiding from issues they claim to care about. But American voters are not so easily fooled again. Fool us once? Shame on you. Fool us twice? Shame on us.

    September 6, 2012 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  11. jsmoulder

    I believe he used the syntax he wanted to, because he thinks no one can do anything without the government. That is what I perceive when watching Obama speak.

    September 6, 2012 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  12. Jeckers

    To Ideas Matter...

    Sorry, but you have this backwards. Business does not exist because of government – government exists because of business. Without tax revenues from corporations and individuals – the government could not function. There would be no teachers, no roads, no infrastructure unless the citizens of cities or the states built it themselves. His comment was backwards and offensive to business owners and private citizens whose dollars are the reason that government even exists.... He can claim a "syntax error" or "taking his words out of context" all he wants – he said and he meant it. We saw the true Obama in that speech....

    September 6, 2012 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  13. Mitt Romney

    ".No rational person could interpret his remarks as anything other than what the GOP says abpout them. But what do I know, I went to a public university in flyover country. " Please. Even I can read his entire speech and understand what he said; I said it myself the next day. But as you say, a flyover education means you believe what the GOP tells you.

    September 6, 2012 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
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