Barack Obama - You Didn't Build That
On July 16, 2012 President Obama was speaking at a campaign rally in Roanoke, Virginia. In that speech, he was discussing his desire to see taxes raised on higher earners in an effort to reduce the deficit and his view that those high earners were willing to pay more. He asserted that those high earners were aware that the businesses owned by those high earners were only successful because of the roads, infrastructure, and education of others. In doing this, he used the phrase "you didn't build that" referencing that infrastructure. The implication being that those businesses could not exist without the manpower and infrastructure provided by the state.
These statements caused a great deal of controversy throughout the 2012 campaign. Republicans seized on the statements to drive home the assertion that President Obama was hostile to business and unaware of how businesses are started in the US. One night of the Republican National Committee in Tampa Bay, Florida was even designated as "We built it" night. In addition to the "You didn't build that" phrase, Republicans were critical of the statements by President Obama that those who run successful businesses are not smarter or harder working than the rest of the country.
Speech in Virginia
The video and text below provide roughly two minutes of the President's speech that day. It is enough to understand the context of the phrase in question. The President starts out addressing the need to raise taxes to help balance the budget, and then notes that the same higher earners who will be taxed more are willing to pay these increased rates. He notes that they are willing to do this because they are aware that their businesses are only successful because of the education of the people they can employ, and the infrastructure in place. He notes that those people did not build that infrastructure with the words "You didn't build that."
I'm not gonna see us gut the investments that grow our economy to give tax breaks to me or Mr Romney or folks that don't need them. So, I'm gonna reduce the deficit in a balanced way. We've already made a trillion dollars worth in cuts, we can make another trillion or trillion two, and what we then do is ask the wealthy to pay a little bit more. And by the way, we've tried that before, a guy named Bill Clinton did it, we created 23 million new jobs, turned a deficit into a surplus, and rich people did just fine. We created a lot of millionaires.
And you know, there are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back. They know they didn't ... If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. 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.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. 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.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative but also because we do things together. There's some things just like fighting fires that we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That'd be a hard to organize fighting fires. So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, "you know what, there are some things that we do better together." That's how we funded the GI bill, that's how we created the middle class, that's how we built the Golden Gate bridge, the Hoover dam, that's how we invented the internet, that's how we sent a man to the moon, we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people and that's the reason i'm running for President.