The Daily Show: Do We Look Stupid?

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From the August 2, 2012 edition

There’s an old saying in Washington: A gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. Recently President Barack Obama made a new kind of gaffe when he told the truth on purpose.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life, somebody to help create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive,” Obama said at a speech he gave July 13 in Roanoke, Virginia.

Obama’s argument is that your success also owes some debt to the systems and infrastructure that was created to support your endeavor. It’s a pretty unremarkable observation about life in a society. But, here’s the gaffe:

“Somebody invested in roads and bridges; if you got a business you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,” Obama said.

Is Obama saying that people who built businesses didn’t really build that business? Are you inexplicably and un-presidentially delivering a nut punch to small-business owners? Is that your point, sir?

“The point is that when we succeed, it’s because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together,” Obama said.

When someone says, “The point is,” the next thing they say, usually — nine times out of 10 — is the point. But what happened here is when Obama used the phrase “you didn’t build that,” he created confusion by using the demonstrative single pronoun “that” instead of the plural anaphor “those,” which would of course be referring to the antecedent “roads and bridges.”

In politics never say “that” because the singular demonstrative pronoun points too specific a finger. Always use the plural “those.” Instead of saying “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” — because that specific woman could be found and talked to — what former President Bill Clinton wanted to say is “I did not have sex with those women.”

Given the surrounding context of Obama’s remarks, including his “the point is” discussion, to make willful hay out of this rather common singular, plural demonstrative pronoun snafu is irresponsible.

“This is just grade-school Marxism that he’s uttering,” CNN’s Erick Erickson said.

Yes, grade-school Marxism, or as your second-grade teacher might have referred to it — sharing.

Besides, this isn’t a gaffe, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney isn’t having a little fun with it. This deliberate misstatement and misrepresentation of Obama’s position is now the centerpiece of Romney’s entire campaign. He’s got signage, T-shirts and an unrelenting TV advertisement. Do conservatives really want to hang their entire campaign on a willful out-of-context misunderstanding?

Hanging your attack on someone’s slight grammatical misstep is what people do in an argument when they’re completely screwed and they know they have no argument. I know Romney would like this election to be a stark choice for the American people between Obama’s vision of a Marxist, state-run oligarchy and your simple ode to the freedom our founders envisioned because given that choice, Romney would … come really close to winning.