The Rachel Maddow Show | July 23, 2012
>>> last week, the 2012 presidential campaign was dominated by one remark that president obama made at a campaign stop in roanoke, virginia. you did not build that. all at once, the entire republican campaign apparatus mobilized itself around the one comment from obama . now, president obama was saying something fairly clear. i mean, you can listen to it yourself.
>> if you have been successful, you didn't get there on your own. you didn't get there on your own. 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. someone invested iproads and bridges. if you have a business, you didn't build that. somebody else made that happen. the point is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative but also because we do things together.
>> in the annals of controversy political statements, this should not be a particularly controversial one. it's the idea that human beings rely on each other as well as themselves. that they rely on the societies as well in order to succeed. the idea if you were born in north korea , you would not have the same career trajectory as if you were born in america. the idea if you love math but got here before newton invented calculus, you would have had a tougher time of it. the institutions we have here matter, infrastructure matters, trains matter, the teacher you had in eighth grade matters, the support your parents gave you matters. and you, of course, matter. as americans we know all that is true. and it's part affof why we call this the greatest country in the world . if individuals were all that matters, why would you care what country you were in? last week, republicans pretended not to know any of that.
>> he said this, if you got a business, you didn't build that. somebody else made that happen. to say that steve jobs didn't build apple, that henry ford didn't build ford motor , that papa john didn't build papa john pizza -- to say something like that is not just foolishness, it's insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in america, and it's wrong.
>> i got to be honest, i tune out of these things sometimes, and this is one of those times. i didn't take any of it seriously when it was unfolding last week because the fact of the matter is mitt romney is not a stupid man. he knows better. i mean, mitt romney ran bain capital . it was a firm that went in and tried to help different people helping other businesses become successful again. and it did so in large part with help from the government. they used government tax deductions to carry out essentially interest free finance take overs to bring them back to profitability or barring that to strip them bare before they turn them out into bankruptcy. he's telling them if those businesses had not had access to romney and their team, they would have been in much worse shape. in any telling, if they had access to outside financing, they would have been in much worse shape. romney knows that. he knows the government has a role to play in helping businesses succeed, that other people have a role to play in helping businesses succeed. his krilticism to the contrary struck me as ridiculous and insincere. but republicans this week are still pushing this thing really hard. today, the rnc held a conference call with a pair of small business owners to highlight president obama 's supposedly offensive comments. this was the backdrop at a mitt romney business round table in california. we did build it, it says. i bet he didn't build the banner, but whatever my suspicions, i didn't have a way to prove that he knew better. actually, i didn't have proof until today. today, when video came out of mitt romney telling olympic athletes back in 2002 , you didn't build it.
>> you guys pushed yourselves, drove yourselves, sacrificed and trained time and again, winning and losing. you olympians know you didn't get here solely on your own power. for most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, all olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. we have already cheered the olympians . let's also cheer the panchts, coaches, and communities. all right.
>> got that, olympians ? you didn't build it. you couldn't possibly have achieved what you have achieved to this point without the help of others. without the help sometimes of even the government which helped build the venues you compete in. i couldn't believe that quote when i first watched it, actually. like david axelrod went back in time and put the precise words he needed into mitt romney 's mouth. romney even praises government in there. he didn't need to do that. he didn't need to bring up venues, but he praises government. you know, the reason he said it is it's all true. you could make a pretty good case that say a marathon runner did it mostly on his own, but most athletes like most benefits benefit from the institutions that exist in their societies. mitt romney knows that. he knows that when it comes to olympic athletes and he knows that when it comes to american businesses. this gets to something larger that we are seeing a lot right now in american politics . the effort to take relatively modest policy differences and blow them up into gigantic yawning chasms of philosophical difference. in reality, the difference between barack obama and mitt romney in terms of specific policy that comes from the idea you didn't build that or you did build that, is about a pursage point of gdp and taxes. maybe a little more or less depending on how you score the tax cut plan. mitt romney doesn't think there should be no taxes, he doesn't think there should be no public investment , and barack obama doesn't think we should have a 100% tax rate and 75 times more public investment . they both think we should have taxes that people pay because we're better off for helping one another out and both men think we should have public investment and public goods because there are things we all need to band to together to do collectively if we're going to succeed individually. the question is simply where to put the balance between the two. now, mitt romney may want to admit this, but he doesn't really have a choice anymore because the fact of the matter is he already admitted it. he admitted it ten years ago when he was kicking off one of the greatest spectacles of individual achievement one can possibly imagine, and he told those athletes at that time in effect, you didn't build it. mitt romney was right back then ability the athletes. they were helped even though they did much on their own. he knows he's wrong right now as he tries to run against obama 's comments on american businesses. joining us now is e.j. dionne , washington post columnist, brookings institution senior fellow and the author of "divided political heart" which i'm told bill clinton has been talking up in political speeches. congrats on that. that's a lot to do all on your own. busy guy.
>> i didn't build it myself. i had a great editor, a lot of friend, great colleagues.
>> one of the things you talk about in the book, which is wonderful, bill clinton is right, is that in american history , there have been these competed threads between individualism and the emphasis on community and what we need to do together. it seems, at least to me, and i'm thought the historian you are, in recent years, much of that has been jettisoned by the republican party in an effort to paint themselves as the saviors of free enterprise and paint the democrats and obama as something radically alien and outside the american consensus. is that a fair judgment?
>> that's a fair judgment. i think you had two things happen at the same time. i think you had the republicans entirely abandon what had been for them and for conservatism, a very strong communitarian commitment. bill buckley shortly before he died --
>> editor of national review . conservative journal.
>> and bill buckley wrote a book called gratitude, where he talked about what we owe back for growing up in this society, for being nurtured by it, for being protected by it. we didn't do the on our own. if he tried to run on that book in a republican primary now, he would lose. in the meantime, obama and the democrats are really just talking about the traditional american balance between our love of community and liberty, between our respect for the role of private enterprise and of government. in building up the country, and so they have to invent a whole tale in order to cast the traditional american idea as some form of socialism. it's exactly what they did on the health care bill, as you know better than anyone. a heritage foun dagdz idea.
>> mitt romney idea.
>> a mitt romney idea. he was really desh.
>> he didn't build that on his own. the heritage foundation and others helped him.
>> my state, he doesn't want to talk about much. and they have just walked away from all that. and mitt romney has sounded consistently better ten years ago than he did once he decided to run for president.
>> one interesting thread in this primary is it's completely normal to paint the opposing party's candidate as more extreme than they are. you want to do that. what isn't quite as normal is to spend so much time painting yourself as more extreme than you really are. there hasn't been a pivot as far as i have been able to tell from primary election romney to general election romney . a lot of things people assumed would fall off have remained and a lot of the arguments have remained the same. in that way he has been consistent, but somewhat unusually. he's been immoderately consistent.
>> good word. like the etch-a-sketch is jammed. he was signaling the campaign aid was signaling we're going to do an adjustment after the primary. i think he's decided that you can flip or you can flop, but you can't flip and flop and flip and flop. so i think there's some reluctance to change again on his part, but this is what the republican party has become. in my book, i talk about people like jacob javts, a very progressive republican . could you imagine someone like him, who i quoted him in the book because he sounds so much like president obama . president obama in so many ways sounds like a moderate or liberal republican from 20 years ago right now. so romney is occupying this space, and i guess the republicans figure he doesn't want to run too far away from congress. he doesn't want to blow up the party. and so he is sticking with positions that i think really are way to the right of where conservatives and republicans used to be.
>> e.j. dionne , washington post columnist, brookings institution senior fellow and author of "our divided political heart" wonderful book he didn't do all his own, but it 's wonderful .
>> thank you.
>> tonight, as part of my career as a cable television dare devil , i will make my second attempt at something that has never been attempted before. i tried it the first time on this show. i survived my first try and i'm back tonight to defy the odds again. this time, with even more spectacular result. maybe. possibly. that is