I ran across a transcript today of the President’s statement that’s getting a lot of discussion about his view of business. There’s a broader context, but here’s the key bit:
“Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
It all seems to me to be based on a misunderstanding about the referent of the demonstrative pronoun, “that.” As poorly as I think the President has handled the economy, and a lot of his failure is a function of the fact he has no personal experience with private business employment and so doesn’t understand what success in business entails, it is impossible for me to believe that the President meant to communicate the idea that a person who has started and grown a business gets no credit for building that business. The “that” in his phrase refers back to “roads and bridges” in particular or the “American system” in the prior sentence more broadly. At least that’s how I take it.
Now of course, his claim so banal as to raise the question of who he believes he is arguing with. Unfortunately it seems like a strategy to misrepresent his opponents in front of his supporters, setting them in opposition on the basis of a false portrayal. But that’s politics in 2012, it seems.