The Gift: Come on now … you did get help, didn’t you?

GOP Obama attack ads on You Didn't Build ThatFrom Dr. Baker: Columnist Terry Gallagher is writing this week …

Remember the big brouhaha last summer about “You didn’t build that”?

In a July 13, 2012 speech in Roanoke, Virginia, President Barack Obama spoke about how public investment helps individuals to prosper.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” Obama said. “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 Romney campaign and the right-wing blogosphere pounced on the phrase, “You didn’t build that.” They made it the centerpiece of their convention rhetoric and the fall campaign and the punchline for a thousand memes.

(As you can see, at right, the GOP actually branded some of these attack ads—including a series of ads with Henry Ford and other famous inventors. The Romney campaign often played off the line, as in the photo at right.)

The anger in these attack ads was rooted in American individualism. Obama’s remark was a threat to the American core value of self-reliance, which Dr. Baker has written about earlier.

But isn’t it true that every successful person got help along the way, and not only from their friends and family, but also from the community? And even, horrors, from the government?

For example, every successful person who graduated from a public university started out on the receiving end of a government subsidy, a huge gift. (Public high school, too, and even private college if it was supported by government loans or grants.)

To pretend otherwise is like refusing to acknowledge a gift gratefully and gracefully. And isn’t refusing to acknowledge a gift the same as rejecting your community?

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