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. Four and The Door

    The REAL Truth...
    ...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!
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________
    But what I see in the GOP platform and how they approach problems and it is very consistent with what I have learned in graduate business school and the things I have learned owning my own business for 9 years. 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.

    September 6, 2012 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  2. Pete

    Mr.Croshaw,yes the damage is done and was inflicted in Romneys camp,Clinton style,bam!!Pres.Clinton hit a home run and definitly took the breath out of republican stratigist watching from CNNs show platform..These stratigist just were speechless,something that's not been seen from my point as viewer in quite a long time,even Carly Fiorina the ex CEO of HP didn't have a negetive thing and that's amazing especially from that hypocrite..So wait and see what kind of bump this president gets,we're not even done yet and voters are looking at your Romney differently aren't they!!A famous democratic president once said and this also to you hypocritical Repubs that if you want Democrates to quit telling truths about Republicans,Republicans better quit telling lies about Democrates,put that in your pipe and smoke it!!Wait till the debates,game on!!

    September 6, 2012 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  3. Ideas matter

    The idea behind Obama's rant of "You didn't build" that was that individual success in private business is the result of Big Government's role in education and infrastructure and without Big Government's involvement, individuals would not succeed. Obama's core idea is un-American and is Marxist-Socialism, probably his major theme in college. Obama is a typical underachiever who tends to diminish the role of an individual's hard-work and business smarts.

    Note how he has said that everyone is smart and works hard, so everyone deserves a share of the success. Getting paid for one's labor isn't enough; one deserves more, according to his clueless understanding of how for-profit capitalism works.

    September 6, 2012 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  4. Martha in CF

    I think, Mr President, that the redumblicans didn't understand what you said...
    Maybe the birther comment by the mittens should be called out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The Mittens and his party are grappling at straws at their next strategy...Of which they haven't one......

    Obama/Biden 2012

    September 6, 2012 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  5. cali girl

    So the only thing they could say at the RNC is " We Built That"
    Wow, love how you twist the actually conversation of President Obamas, however, now that we know you mis quoted, let's get down to brass tax. Where are your plans their Robmey? Oh, wait, none. How about those Tax Returns? Oh, wait, none. How about the Lies on Welfare and Medicare? Oh, wait, Clinton called you OUT on that one, tisk tisk.

    September 6, 2012 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  6. aly

    The Dems and Obama are just interested in dividing the country rather than fostering the spirit of "United we will stand, divided we will fall." The issue is OUR economy. It is failing. Simply, we need a person that can turn this around. We all will have to sacrifice and go without. There is no more money.

    September 6, 2012 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  7. crush

    It's all they have so they have to use it. Just like the birther thing. When I hear people using it on TV or in person I think it's kind of funny because they know the whole context but choose to twist it anyway. Just makes them look ignorant.

    September 6, 2012 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  8. The Elephant in the Room

    Honestly, no one who is even remotely competent in the English language can dispute, or has a problem, with what he said.

    The bigger indictment is off the REPUBLICAN party which once again has branded itself as the PARTY of LIARS or one that will mislead voters by taking someone`s words out of context. I still remember when a Republican Senator famously said his words/ numbers "were not intended to be factually accurate".

    Independents are watching the GOP and the party is pouring concrete around its feet.

    September 6, 2012 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  9. al in memphis

    Look at your state or local government recent actions to attract jobs and business. The truth is the taxpayers ARE building alot of things for private business and giving private business unbelievable tax breaks. It will cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions to attract a single medium size plant to any area and not does not include the additional millions in taxes that business does not have to pay for 10 or 15 years. Where does that money come from, the taxpayer borrowed it and just continue to add to the deficit that all these people complain about but don't have a clue about the truth.
    Small business carry their own weight and are really the backbone of the economy. Try to find one medium or large corporation that starts up on it own without government handouts or local subsidies.

    September 6, 2012 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  10. Steve- Illinois

    "The private sector is doing fine!" Barack Obama

    Any questions?

    September 6, 2012 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  11. Ray E. (Georgia)

    Well Honestly,
    A lot of us didn't expect anything from Obama in the first place and we got about what we expected. Nothing. So it's back to the drawing board. The Tea Leaves are saying things are going to change in November. For the better, I might add.

    September 6, 2012 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  12. Mitt Romney

    I once told a crowd out in flyover that Obama went to college and they booed him for ten minutes. I didn't mention that I went to college myself after that. Ha ha ha! I pwn the GOP every day, and they can't do jack.

    September 6, 2012 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  13. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Nanny state Ray – I think you are going to be very disappointed that our president will be reelected, but the majority of Americans will rejoice that the baggers did not destroy America.

    September 6, 2012 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  14. somebody

    What is regretable is that the GOP is basing a large part of their 'message' on a distortion of what President Obama said. That speaks volumes about their (lack of) credibility. The lies and distortions presented thoughout the GOP convention was shameful.

    @The Elephant in the Room
    The bigger indictment is off the REPUBLICAN party which once again has branded itself as the PARTY of LIARS or one that will mislead voters by taking someone`s words out of context. I still remember when a Republican Senator famously said his words/ numbers "were not intended to be factually accurate".

    Agreed. The Party of LIARS fits. The Senator you speak of was John Kyle of Arizona and was the 95% of planned parenthood funding goes to abortion lie. The actual value is 3%.

    The 'We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers" theme also speaks volumes about Romney/Ryan and the GOP in general. Pathetic liars!

    September 6, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  15. HUSSEIN'S DEBT $5.4 TRILLION and counting

    Why regret what you obvious believe?

    September 6, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  16. PJ

    @Steve – Illinois:
    ******
    "Big business is doing fine" largely due to foreign tax havens – Mitt Romney.
    Any answers?

    September 6, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  17. HUSSEIN'S DEBT $5.4 TRILLION and counting

    The DNC convention has nothing but a lying context.

    September 6, 2012 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  18. WiredweirdinSF

    He probably should have said he was referring to that Nobel Peace prize he accepted. He did not earn it. I guess am a redumican or any other demeaning, degrading name the dope addicted, welfare fraud, corrupt libertards wish to saddle me with. I was one of the TEA Party that helped clean up the Wisconsin state capital after the union people trashed it. You know, or you probably don't. take personal repsonsibility for your actions. A concept alien to democrat liberals. They still blame Bush.

    September 6, 2012 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  19. myviewis

    Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Nanny state Ray – I think you are going to be very disappointed that our president will be reelected, but the majority of Americans will rejoice that the baggers did not destroy America.
    ----------------------

    You mean the majority of Americans will worry that once again the Democrats will get rid of God and claim Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.

    September 6, 2012 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  20. craigles

    The "build that" remark is not that big a deal. The Republicans just don't have much else to say and it only plays to their base anyway. They have no concrete platform, just hatred and distortions.

    September 6, 2012 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  21. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @Sniffit
    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
    -------------------------------------------------
    Welcome back babe!!!

    September 6, 2012 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  22. hangar13

    Most of the Ivy Leaguers I know would say "You didn't build THEM" if they were talking about roads and bridges. 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. Still laughing at the dems' quadriennial charade of pretending to believe in God so moderates will vote for them, they even booted that one into deep left field this time.

    September 6, 2012 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  23. myviewis

    craigles

    The "build that" remark is not that big a deal. The Republicans just don't have much else to say and it only plays to their base anyway. They have no concrete platform, just hatred and distortions.
    ---------------------

    It isn't for you because you didn't build a business.

    September 6, 2012 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  24. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Someone has a view that is bordering delusion – I can see that my post went over your head, so let me be clear. Mittens and Lyin' Ryan are going to be rejected, and the vast majority of people will rejoice that the republican attempt to destroy America is over. Read the republican plank, and you will see that there is no leadership, only division and hate, coming from the GOP.

    September 6, 2012 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  25. ghostwriter

    The same Paul Ryan who is still clinging to his "misspoken" words that were "misunderstood"? The one that said he was influenced to go into politics by the same person who shaped his ideologes, Ayn Rand? Of course, that was before he had to back peddle outta that one. The same guy who personally put wording into the Stock Act to allow for a nice lil loophole, then denied doing it, then calling it an error?

    Can't be the same guy......

    September 6, 2012 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
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