Obama regrets 'syntax' of 'you didn't build that'
September 6th, 2012
11:52 AM ET
2 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. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    I wonder if Mittens regrets saying that corporations and eggs are people; but the poor, the needy, the homeless, the seniors, the veterans, the college students, public sector workers, evidently are not.

    September 6, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  2. Jenny Ruth Yasi

    I am a small business owner and Obama's comment doesn't offend me in the slightest. I know that my clients built my business. I had a role to play of course, but without roads, without energy, without clean water and air and security, I could not have built my business. I didn't build my business on my own. Every business is really a creation of the whole community. Even as a writer, when I write a story, I know I didn't write the story alone. It takes a community to raise a child and it takes a community to build a business!

    September 6, 2012 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  3. Lynda/Minnesota

    The entire "You Didn't Build That" Republican meme is beyond stupid. It brought the RNC convention down into a gutter level of absurdity. Fitting for a potilical party that is absolutely out of steam, ideals, solutions, candidates, and trustworthiness.

    Fits right in with empty chairs and cardboard cutouts.

    September 6, 2012 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  4. cali girl

    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."

    That is the point I remember from the speech. That so many factors come together to get you what you need to build anything you want. For instance, there are cupcake businesses all over. So someone wants to bake them and sell them. The at home hand mixer is not going to cut it anymore. So you research ovens for commercial use, and you are glad that you found 3 different ovens. Then you need a space cleared by the health Dept. they come and inspect and you are ready to go. So you know have a place that you didn't have to do this, you have a commercial mixer that you didn't have before. You have commercial ovens that you didn't have before. Aren't you so glad that those business's exist so that you have the ability to buy what you need for your business?

    September 6, 2012 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  5. bon basije

    The phrase "You didn't build that" fits nicely with "Property is theft!" that some early socialists proudly bandied about in the past.

    September 6, 2012 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  6. Wake up People!

    Of course he regrets it. He had no idea they would take his words out of context. I'm sure he has many regrets but I bet the biggest one is believing the GOP actually loved this country and would work with him to move us forward. I bet $10,000 President Obama had no idea the GOP were so UNPATRIOTIC.

    OBAMA 2012!

    September 6, 2012 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC

    As self appointed spokesperson for the middle class, I would like to tell Romney/Ryan something.
    You are trying to destroy Medicare and you need to leave Medicare alone. WE BUILT THAT.
    Don't try to privatize Social Security by handing over those billions to Wall St. WE BUILT THAT.
    You are trying to destroy the middle class in this country. WE BUILT THAT, TOO.

    September 6, 2012 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  8. mgrgurich

    "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."

    That is exactly the point. There are a lot of smart hard working people who do not have the opportunities that others do because of who their parents were. The GOP says "tough luck Chuck"

    September 6, 2012 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  9. John Croshaw

    Listen to yourselves liberals. The damage is done, and will continue throughout the election. Your puny posts on your liberal leaning news website mean nothing. Say goodbye to your false God Obama, whom you defend even when he is utterly wrong.

    By the way, do you guys want God in your platform or not? Guess it doesn't matter, cuz it just got rammed down your throat.

    Romney/Ryan 2012

    September 6, 2012 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  10. Fair is Fair

    "Syntax"???? Clearly a stretch there, Mr. President.

    September 6, 2012 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  11. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    No regrets necessary Mr. President.
    The only ones that chose to "trip" with your quip were the intellectually challenged and oxygen deprived rightwing nutjobs.

    September 6, 2012 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Everybody understood what you meant President Obama, INCLUDING the ones that are desperately trying to make something negative out of it.

    September 6, 2012 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  13. imp

    Since the average Fox viewer doesn't know the meaning of the word "syntax", Fox will just drop the word & change it to: "Obama regrets 'didn't build that' statement." Yet again changing facts to serve their purpose & cater to the ignorant.

    September 6, 2012 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  14. Four and The Door

    It has been very effective for the Republicans, but what makes it effective are not just the words. The point is this is also a great way to crystallize how he has approached the business community. With very little respect.

    September 6, 2012 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  15. linda

    Most all business want the credit that "They Built IT" ...we'll give you credit for stepping out and starting up your business but from that point on it is your employees that make your company work...if it wasn't for them your company wouldn't exist.....and the employees are the last to get credit....they are the one's that poor out their sweat so your company will continue to grow......the owner may sit in his or her office and oversee the daily goings on in their business but at the end of the day it's the people you employ that runs your business........so in a sense you did not build your business on your own.

    September 6, 2012 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  16. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Fox foreign owned media has done everything to destroy America. They sure can fire up their domestic terrorist viewers, though.

    September 6, 2012 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  17. Pander Bear

    Syntax!! He's gonna raise taxes again!! Derpa Der! – The Tea Party

    September 6, 2012 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  18. Land of the High Sky

    Saying what he means has always been dangerous for Obama. He is so artful at deceit he rarely slips. We have been telling the boss/owner at our office for the last few weeks, "Get over yourself, you didn't build this". The response is not printable.

    September 6, 2012 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  19. The REAL Truth...

    @Four and The Door – It has been very effective for the Republicans, but what makes it effective are not just the words.
    -------------------------------
    it HAS been very effective for the Grand Obstructionist Party.. but only has to look at the intelligence level of their average supporter. They are either subjugated women, red state lemmings or wealthy old white men!
    What really makes it effective is the dumbing down of the right wing electoral rolls. They believe everything they are told, especially when coming from an aging, doddering American icon talking to an empty chair. Yeah, symbolic ain't it!

    September 6, 2012 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  20. v_mag

    Fair is Fair said: "Syntax"???? Clearly a stretch there, Mr. President.
    --
    I'm gonna take that out of context like a conservative would and see where it takes us. She said "Syntax" but she really meant "sin tax", and clearly she meant Romney when she was referring to "Mr. President", as Romney is her choice for president. So, what Fair was really saying was, "It's a sin for Romney not to reveal his tax returns." Yeah, that's what she meant. Clearly. Clear as Repugnant mud.

    September 6, 2012 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  21. WILLARD MILTON ROMNEY IS A COWARD & TAX EVADER

    Don't be regretful. You see, we as voters can see for ourselves that the republicans are taking your words out of context. Some of us actually heard ALL of your remarks and believe them to be spot on. What kills me is that the media fails to mention that a few days after the President made this comment, Willard pretty much said the same thing the President did. Where's the coverage on that CNN???

    September 6, 2012 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  22. myviewis

    "If you've got a business, you didn't build that." Said by President Obama.
    Obama is just backpedaling once again. Obama cannot commit to his words and he is doing his usually thing of implying that we mis-understood him, we didn't hear him correct.

    1.I said that I might
    2.IF the government
    3.Actually what I said

    Same backpedaling Democrats just did in restoring wording the mentions GOD and declaring that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Same game played by all Democrats.

    September 6, 2012 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  23. Sniffit

    "The phrase "You didn't build that" fits nicely with "Property is theft!" that some early socialists proudly bandied about in the past."

    Except in the phrase and in its context "THAT" quite obviously meant "roads, bridges, schools, the economic system and all the rest of the country's infrastructure." Placed correctly into the very clear context of the rest of what Obama said, instead of violently and dishonestly ripped out of context and then misrepresented as Mittens and the GOP/Teatrolls have been doing, it becomes readily apparent how ridiculous your statement truly is. Your knee-jerk reverse peristalsis of the word "socialist" in a manner that clearly demonstrates the absence of understanding what it means...that's just icing on the cake.

    September 6, 2012 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  24. SOUTHERN HOTTIE

    Look, President Obama, you can explain it to the GOP/Tea Party even after you are re-elected and they STILL won't understand the concept of "context."

    September 6, 2012 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  25. Mitt Romney

    I could say that Obama said he pledged allegiance to the United States of America, and the old people in Minnesota and Nebraska would say "HOW DARE HE!! KILL HIM NOW!!" I only hope there are enough old grannies listening to FOX to get me elected.

    September 6, 2012 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
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