More than a week ago, Barack Obama flew his true color: red. He told private business leaders that they could never have built their businesses or careers on their own. When Obama said, “You didn’t build that,” he meant a government support system. By that he meant public schools, public roads and bridges, and the Internet. But a new column this morning reminds us that Obama was wrong even about that.
The You Didn’t Build That speech
Here is the part of Obama’s speech in Roanoke, VA, when he said, “You didn’t build that”:
If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
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. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
If Obama had said, “You didn’t build those” instead of “You didn’t build that,” everyone might have missed his point completely. Barack Obama wants to grow the government. To do that, he must remind people of things the government does, and say that only the government can do these things. He then can suggest that government ought to do everything.
But he said You didn’t build that instead of You didn’t build those. Oops. But as RoseAnn Salanitri said last week, that was more than a grammatical mistake. Obama let slip the kind of society he wants to build. In that society, if you supervise any factory, or manage any store, Obama can well and truly say that you didn’t build that. He did. He doesn’t want merely to be President. He wants to be First Secretary.
No wonder Rush Limbaugh, John Hayward (Human Events), and others found Obama’s remarks so outrageous. They knew exactly what he said, and what slipped out.
Who Invented the Internet?
Map of the Internet. Graphic: Mike Lee (Flickr), CC BY 2.0 Generic License
But Obama also lied about who invented the Internet. The Internet did not start with government research.
CNAV must now disclose its own mistake, a mistake anyone can make who sees only part of the whole.
As to the Internet: the Department of Defense needed to have its computers keep talking to one another even after a devastating attack from the air or from space. They developed a new networking method that civilians could use just as easily. The Internet is a by-product of one of the three proper functions of government, and grew out of the government’s basic mission. That mission is to manage force and to apply it to protect people’s rights.
CNAV regrets that error. L. Gordon Crovitz, in his excellent piece in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, gives credit where credit is due. Crovitz cites Vannemar Bush’s 1946 paper in The Atlantic. Bush proposed an electronic encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute. If that sounds familiar, it should. We call it MediaWiki, and also by the name of the original MediaWiki project, Wikipedia. (Ironically, Wikipedia itself missed that reference.) In fact, the first idea for a network of telephone and television came from Paul Otlet in 1934.
The common story of ARPAnet as the precursor to the Internet is also wrong. The Internet had not one precursor, but several. Not all were part of government, or even part of the Department of Defense. (See here and here.)
More to the point: the Internet needed more than Vinton Cerf’s Internetworking Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) and Timothy Berners-Lee’s Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). (Furthermore, Berners-Lee did not work for the American Defense Department at all, but for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.) Crovitz points out that the basic idea of connecting two computer networks, that usually “spoke” completely different machine “languages”, came from a private company: Xerox Corporation. Sadly, Xerox did not know what they had. Its executives thought only of sharing a copying machine (or a laser printer, which was always a copying machine without a scanner) among the desktop computers they developed. But a young man named Steve Jobs did know. He learned Xerox’ Ethernet secrets as part of a venture-capital deal. The rest is history.
More to the point: even the ARPAnet would never have grown until companies like Xerox, Apple, and IBM combined Ethernet with TCP/IP to make it possible. Crovitz also points out that since 1993, the Internet has been (and still is) a totally non-governmental project.
The Internet? You didn’t build that, Obama!
So where is now the case that Barack Obama made when he said, “You didn’t build that”? These words, from Is This Baloney, would be enough to destroy it:
Private businesses have built this country, not government. Nearly every tank, bullet, grenade, aircraft, ship and submarine [came from] the private sector with government money. Government, let me say, the people, provides money in the way of confiscated wealth, also known as taxes. But the idea[s] for these innovations [came from] the minds of [persons] who had vision. [They did not come from] government and elected officials [who think] of little more than getting reelected.
But the Internet did not move from government effort alone. The Internet had more private initiative behind it than even Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo had. None of those projects would have succeeded without their private contractors. The Internet succeeded, as Crovitz points out, because private businesses did not wait for the government to tell them what to do. If not for the initiatives that some executives showed at Xerox, and again at Apple, the Internet would not be what it is today, if it would exist at all.
So Obama lied when he said, “You didn’t build that!” In fact, the real builders of the Internet, can say, not only to Obama but to legions of government functionaries,