CHARLOTTE – After being pummeled for days at the Republican convention for his remark that business owners didn’t build that, President Obama heads to his own convention in North Carolina this week facing mounting questions about how he will respond to charges that he is hostile to free enterprise.
On Sunday, senior Obama advisers suggested they will not address the anti-business allegations directly but will instead try to turn the tables on their Republican rivals by accusing them of being dishonest about what Obama meant.
David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser, said in an interview on ABC News Sunday that Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign is engaged in a broader pattern of dishonesty and built on a tripod of lies. Plouffe cited accusations that Obama has gutted the work requirement in welfare reform and raided Medicare to pay for the health care law as other examples of untruths coming from the GOP.
The Obama team feels that it has effectively dealt with the build that attacks and that the issue is overblown – the drill, baby, drill of 2012, a rallying cry for the right but ultimately one with limited appeal with the broader electorate.
Nevertheless, there are signs they see a vulnerability. Obama has not repeated the words that sparked the controversy, and he has toned down the broader argument – that government help is essential to business success – in the six weeks since he ad-libbed the line near the end of a long campaign swing. His speeches have been shorter, with fewer references to wealthy Americans. He is more cautious about portraying the choice that he quite forcefully described.
Adviser David Axelrod, traveling with Obama in Colorado on Sunday, said the public will come away from the convention with a very clear sense of Obama’s values, including the president’s faith in private enterprise.
Pressure has been growing for Obama to address the build that accusations since they reached a fever pitch last week at the Republican convention.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help, Obama said that July night in Roanoke. 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.
Republicans have typically quoted only the last part – If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that – prompting most independent fact-checkers to conclude that the line was taken out of context.
Republicans say that, even in context, it’s not clear whether Obama is referring to businesses or infrastructure when he states, you didn’t build that. They say the overall speech reinforces a narrative about Obama – that he places too much faith in government – that resonates with voters.