The National Journal's Major Garrett brought up the Republican campaign to use the “you didn't build that” line to attack President Obama during both the Republican and Democratic national conventions, but let stand the distortion at the heart of that campaign. In fact, during his speech -- as independent fact-checkers have noted -- Obama was explaining how small businesses have benefitted from the successes and contributions of others, including government, which Garrett failed to point out.
There's no question Obama inartfully phrased those two sentences, but it's clear from the context what the president was talking about. He spoke of government -- including government-funded education, infrastructure and research -- assisting businesses to make what he called “this unbelievable American system that we have.”
In summary, he said: “The point is ... that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
During a discussion about the 2012 presidential election on NBC's The Chris Matthews Show, Garrett, a former Fox News White House correspondent who is now a National Journal congressional correspondent, referred to how “Republicans will use the president's 'you didn't build that' against him” at the respective party conventions. Garrett continued by explaining that the comments would be used “thematically at the Republican convention and with traveling hecklers in Charlotte,” where the Democratic National Convention will be held.
But as the full context of Obama's comments show, he was simply noting that the success of small businesses comes not only from their own initiative, but also can come from outside influences such as “a great teacher somewhere in your life” and investment “in roads and bridges.”
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler wrote of the Romney's campaign distortion of “you didn't build that” :
[B]y focusing on one ill-phrased sentence, Romney and his campaign have decided to pretend that Obama is talking about something different -- and then further extrapolated it so that it becomes ridiculous. That's not very original at all.
PolitiFact added that “when you read the full text of [Obama's] remarks, that quote distorts the meaning of Obama's claim.” It continued:
We believe, as do our friends at FactCheck.org and the Washington Post Fact Checker, that Romney has seriously distorted Obama's comments.
Romney cherry-picked a quote that made it sound like Obama was dismissive of businesses when in fact he was making a point that success comes from the combination of “individual initiative” and the fact that “we do things together.”