What happened to “Yes, We Can”?

I’ve got to warn my readers (wait, do I have readers?): I’m neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I’ve voted for both parties, as well as Libertarian and Independent candidates in various levels of government and election cycles. I used to study politics, and yes, I do have a number of political ideals I hold dear, but I’m actually far more interested in the play of politics than the idealism. I read speeches and try to figure out how they will be received by various consumers – those who are inclined to agree with the message-bearer, those who are inclined to disagree, and the undecideds. It’s a careful game, you see – an ideal speech energizes your base, appeals to some undecideds, and doesn’t give your opponents any ammo.

This can be hard to accomplish.

Recently, Obama spoke regarding business in America.

“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. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Now, it doesn’t take a hardcore Democrat to know what he meant. There is a belief among liberal-minded people that freedom = opportunity, and one of the roles of government is to help make available said opportunities. It’s why liberals generally seek strengthening public education, healthcare, infrastructure – because these could be tools for everyone to have opportunities to achieve. Even those of us more conservatively-inclined regarding the role of government can understand the motivation behind it.

A side note: if you find it hard to step outside whatever your hard-won, strongly-held political beliefs may be in order to perhaps attempt to sincerely understand your opponents’ points of view instead of just hopping to the assumption that Democrats seek to enslave through taxes and Republicans seek to start wars in countries with brown people so we can have their oil, perhaps you may find a level of discourse which is productive, intelligent and integritous. I am reminded of a quote I was presented with in college:

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  -Aristotle

That said, I release this tangent and continue my original thought:

Now, I have friends for whom the above quote (by Obama) is tremendously offensive. “Somebody else made that happen”. That’s not a good set of words. It’s already caused an array of mildly-amusing internet memes regarding famous companies people “didn’t really make”. I haven’t found most of them funny though they’re certainly invigorating the anti-Obama base, but this one made me chuckle:

obamacarriedyou

After I finished giggling and re-posting it to my Facebook page, I decided to re-read the original quote by Obama. I realized really quickly that with just two words changed, the entire thing sounds way better. Now, he may’ve been off the teleprompter or saying this off-the-cuff, I won’t pretend I’ve investigated that – but he was struggling to say something, I think, which would’ve made his point far clearer.

The original, in case you’re too lazy to scroll upwards:

“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. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

My edit:

“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. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that alone. Everybody, together, made that happen.”

Now, to start, it gets the actual point across. Obama believes that in a society where government helps provide opportunity, those who succeed need to help pay to fund more opportunity. We all contribute, we all benefit. My conservative friends call it “socialism”, but I’m not in the mood to debate the meanings of government ideologies today.

Obama spent his 2008 campaign telling us, “Yes, we can”. This was a great campaign mantra, and it led to his success in the election (Sarah Palin may’ve also been helpful, in a different way). Here was his opportunity to rekindle some “yes, we can” energy. He didn’t really succeed.

I note that my more liberally-inclined friends are preferring to ignore the original quote or qualify it – there’s a lot of “well, you know what he meant”. Yeah. Those who agree with him do know what he meant. But he didn’t exactly energize the base with that. My more conservatively-inclined friends are quick to jump the meme-wagon and snark about how Obama thinks Steve Jobs didn’t really build Apple. My independent, undecided, seriously-not-sure-about-Obama friends (yes, I have those) are going either way on their reactions. They’ve got some funny memes telling them Obama’s going to take from each according to their ability and give to each according to their need. They’ve got some uninspired Democrats mentioning Bain to them.

But my edit, you see, energizes the base. It interests the undecideds (especially the ones who encounter the energized base). Lastly, it doesn’t give the opponents the ammo. That five-word sentence up there is their ammo, and my edit got rid of it.

I’m not saying Obama should fire his speechwriter and hire me instead. I’m just saying maybe I should be paid for some consulting on the side or something.

3 thoughts on “What happened to “Yes, We Can”?”

  1. You’re right, it was a blooper. Like you, I hear what was meant; even more, I understand the reality of it. You said it better and if I knew someone with a contact at the White House I’d refer your edit.

    “My independent, undecided, seriously-not-sure-about-Obama friends (yes, I have those) are going either way on their reactions.” … That would be me. I never have a true option anymore. Now I’m focused on the best candidate to appoint 1-2 new Supreme Court Justices. Mitt just doesn’t do it for me. I may still write in my brother for President, though, since Mass will go for Obama. However, it is the swing states both candidates have to worry about.

  2. Plus, he has a plan to end homelessness: he’ll just mandate that all the homeless buy houses, and tax them for not doing so, and that will fix everything.

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