In a sharply worded counterattack, President Barack Obama is accusing Mitt Romney of having gone "over the edge" by distorting his recent remarks about small businesses — his by-now notorious "you didn't didn't build that" comment.
"Look, in politics we all tolerate a certain amount of spin," Obama told supporters in Oakland, California, late Monday. "I understand these are the games that get played in political campaigns, although when folks just omit entire sentences of what you said they start kind of splicing and dicing, you may have gone a little over the edge there."
The fight centers on a snippet of Obama's remarks at a campaign stop in Roanoke, Virginia, where the president sang the praises of government investment in infrastructure like roads and bridges as well as in education and concluded: "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that."
Team Romney and the Republican National Committee have pulled the remark out of context to argue that Obama was dismissing the role of personal initiative in creating jobs and saying that the government, not the private sector, deserves the credit. The full remarks (included at the bottom of this post) make it abundantly clear that the president wasn't denigrating entrepreneurs. (In Roanoke, Obama concluded his argument by saying: "The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.")
"Frankly, the other side knows they can't sell their ideas so what they're going to do is try to distort my vision," Obama said in Oakland, accusing Romney of "knowingly twisting my words around." "I believe with all my heart that it is the drive and the ingenuity of Americans who start businesses that lead to their success," the president said. "I always have and I always will."
(Now for your cynicism-fueling 'both sides do it' moment: Democrats, including the Obama campaign, earlier this year warped one of Romney's comments, "I like being able to fire people," beyond recognition, ripping it from its context. The former Massachusetts governor was talking about being able to change insurance companies if you're unhappy with the service you're getting with your current provider. Democrats used it to paint Romney as a heartless practitioner of locust capitalism who enjoys handing out pink slips. With the sour economy the top worry on voters' minds, each side has fought to portray the other as dangerously out of touch on the issue.)
There's no mistaking the extent to which this Republican attack has gotten under Team Obama's skin: In addition to rating a mention in the president's stump speech, it has drawn multiple video messages from the reelection campaign.
In the latest such salvo, deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter says Romney's ad "blatantly twists President Obama's words," accuses him of "not telling the truth," warns the comments are "out of context," calls the attack "ridiculous," insists that Obama "didn't say that," and suggests the vastly successful Republican investor doesn't understand how the economy works.
"Every time they do this, we need to call them out," she says in the three-minute pitch. "We all have a relative who spends all their time forwarding those crazy email chains. So make sure they get the facts, too."