Who Built That? Republicans Sidestep Government's Role

Image Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

" We Built It" - those were the defiant words painted all around the Tampa Bay Times Forum during last night's Republican National Convention opener. Inside the hall, the message was delivered on massive signboards and by country singer Lane Turner. Speakers - like Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and Ohio's Gov. John Kasich - made knowing allusions to it in their addresses to the party faithful.

And they're right. The construction of the arena, which has been home to the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning since Oct. 20, 1996, was very much a group effort. The "we," in this case, includes local taxpayers, who put up $86 million for the cause, along with the Lightning organization, which chipped in the remaining $53 million.

The phrase is a play on President Obama's benign, if bungled, comments about the role government plays in creating an environment for private business to grow and thrive. On July 13 he said:

"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."

The Romney campaign seized on the italicized bit, calling it proof the president believed all personal wealth was, and should be, tied to the whims of central government bureaucrats. On Aug. 16, a bakery in Virginia refused to serve Vice President Joe Biden because of the alleged slight.

But a turn of the phrase, from declaration to question - - "Who Built It?" or "Who rebuilds it after it breaks?" - tends to yield the same answer: "We" do.

"Every American deserves the opportunity of a limited, responsible government that performs its core functions well, and then gets the heck out of their way!" McDonnell said during his address last night.

McDonnell, though, should have few qualms with how Washington is spending American tax money. A recent Gallup poll showed that Virginia was home to more federal employees than any other state in the nation except neighboring Maryland.

A 2011 Bloomberg Government report showed that federal defense spending accounted for 13.9 percent of the state's GDP - that's $56.9 billion, the most in the nation, and equivalent to more than $7,000 per resident annually.

And when a terrible summer storm, called a "derecho," tore through the state earlier this summer, McDonnell turned immediately to Washington for money to help clean up the mess and rebuild infrastructure leveled by the squalls.

"We have determined that Virginia should meet all of the requirements for federal public assistance," the governor said. "Federal assistance is vitally important to help our localities recover significant costs associated with responding to the storms and keeping our citizens safe."

Last night, McDonnell sounded a different tune.

"The choice is clear," he told conventioneers, "the status quo of the entitlement society, or dynamic change to an opportunity society."

Just minutes before, Ohio's Gov. Kasich gave a peppy speech touting job growth in his state.

"I told you a minute ago that when we came into office, we were 48th in job creation," Kasich blared. "You know where we are today? We're fourth in American in job creation and No. 1 in the Midwest."

Kasich pegged the improvement to budget cuts he pushed through the state legislature, but the broader economic resurgence can be largely tied to the resurgent American auto industry, which has deep ties with suppliers in Ohio. Several independent reports say the auto industry was saved from crisis by a federal bailout that many Republicans opposed.

In 2010, it was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, then facing a primary challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who told a Tea Party crowd protesting the president's stimulus spending bill that "if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."

The stimulus passed and Texas is still a part of the United States. Less than a year later, when thousands of wildfires were burning a path through the state's blighted central plains, Perry made an appeal to the federal government for help.

"Texas is reaching its capacity to respond to these emergencies and is in need of federal assistance," the governor said in an April 2011 statement. "I urge President Obama to approve our request quickly so Texans can continue receiving the resources and support they need as wildfires remain an ongoing threat."

And when the help didn't come at the rate and volume Perry requested, he went public with his frustration.

"There is a point in time where you say, hey, what's going on here?" he said. "You have to ask, why are you taking care of Alabama and other states? I know our letter didn't get lost in the mail."