The grammar of “You didn’t build that” …

Geez, I’ve been getting emails from folks explaining what the Orator-in-Chief meant by “You didn’t build that” …  all essentially repping the Obama Truth Team’s talking point:

“The President’s full remarks show that the ‘that’ in ‘you didn’t build that’ clearly refers to roads and bridges–public infrastructure we count on the government to build and maintain.”



Let’s drill down.

Remember, it was Obama himself who lectured the world that “They’re not just words. Words have meaning”.

So, let’s look closely at an analysis of the words:

The word “business” is more proximate to the pronoun “that” and therefore its more likely antecedent.

“Roads and bridges” is plural; “that” is singular. If Obama was talking about roads and bridges in a grammatically correct way, he would have said, “You didn’t build those.”

I know, cut him some slack … it was only his second campaign event without using his trademark teleprompter.


No slack.


Because he self-proclaimed that he has a “gift” for oratory.

In an  interview with CNN , Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid discussed a 2005 encounter with then-Sen. Barack Obama.

Reid had praised Obama for a speech he had just given.

The  newly-elected senator declared to Reid, “I have gift.”

As the WSJ quipped

Barack Obama is supposed to be the World’s Greatest Orator, the smartest man in the world.

Yet his loyalists want us to believe he is not even competent to construct a sentence.


* * * * *

P.S. Remember a couple of weeks ago when Obama kept up the Bain outsourcing riff even after the Wash Post gave his claims 3 Pinocchios?  For somebody who dishes it, he seems to have very thin skim.

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3 Responses to “The grammar of “You didn’t build that” …”

  1. TK Says:

    Palin has certainly been abused for her syntax and usage rather than the content of her commentary, so Obama can’t complain too much. It still seems clear to me that he was talking about bridges and roads and that he is correct in his analysis.

  2. Steve Says:

    It’s funny – I was firmly in the camp that felt Obama was talking about roads and bridges when I “read” his remarks. After “listening” to his remarks I’m not so sure. I think the intent of the message is what the Obama-apologists say it was when the speech was originally written: the government can be a help to business and can provide the environment and infrastructure necessary to build a successful business. What’s interesting in listening to the comments is that he seems to get carried away, almost like he’s getting energy from his audience and wanted to throw them some red meat, which is where things went too far. The question is whether the red meat reflects Obama’s true feelings. Certainly his administration hasn’t demonstrated a real zeal for supporting growing businesses; to the contrary, the regulatory environment, the healthcare act, and tax policies have hindered growth in the private sector, particularly for small-to-mid sized growing businesses that make the investments in new capital, hire the new workers, and don’t have the army of attorneys and compliance officers to deal with the new requirements. Obama keeps talking about supporting small businesses, but who is that? Most small businesses are sub-chapter S, which means that if the company makes over $250,000 they’ll suffer a tax increase come January 1st; that’s not pro-growth. If he’s referring to businesses that earn under $250,000 (and they would have to be substantially under $250,000, because you need to account for the owner/operators salary as well), these companies are usually mom-and-pop businesses that employ only mom and pop (and perhaps junior, at some point). These aren’t the companies that are the engine of growth and these aren’t the companies that are hiring new employees. While the mom-n-pops hunker down and the Fortune-class companies lay off employees, it’s the mid-sized companies that are doing all the growing and hiring, yet these are the same companies that are going to get nailed by the increase in taxes (including the ACA), which will keep the companies from hiring new people and investing in capital. I’m not opposed to raising taxes as long as there is an equal and immediate decrease in spending on the other side (the fact that future spending decreases are garbage was just proven once again with the whole student loan subsidy debacle in the last few months), but now is not the time for a tax increase when all the current initiatives are intended to do is create envy and gain votes; instead these taxes only garner revenue to offset 8.5 days of federal spending and isn’t worth the damage it will do to the economy.

  3. Andrew L. Says:

    The heart of the argument is lost in a discussion of the syntax.

    Whether he meant precisely that sentiment is really a pointless discussion if you aren’t standing in a bar. At issue is that people honestly, deeply believe that President subscribes to that worldview. People wouldn’t laugh at the Palin jokes if they didn’t think that she was dumb, people wouldn’t laugh at Gore if they thought that he invented the Internet, and folks wouldn’t be upset by Obama if they didn’t believe that he holds government dearer than the business and individuals that support it.

    In that frame, the “analysis” of roads and bridges just sort of makes the people who make that argument look silly.

    Finally, government didn’t build the roads and bridges, Bechtel, Fluor, and American Bridge did.

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