A decade ago this July, then-President Barack Obama said something that was quickly taken out of context and was warped into a political attack that seemed to undercut the exact point he was trying to make.
During a presentation where he highlighted the power of American infrastructure, Obama suggested that everyone benefited from the roads and the maintenance that went into those roads with a simple phrase: “You didn’t build that.”
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.
At a time when lots of debates about digital freedom are running rampant, where extremely rich multibillionaire people are mocking the very things
they once funded with their venture capital firms, I think a lot of people need to be reminded of the full context of the original quote from Obama.
Was it perfect? No. It was extremely easy for his political opponents to undercut by simply boiling the speech down to its snappiest term. But it is ultimately a correct point, and one we should apply to our discussions about freedom of speech online.
(Side note about the link I just dropped: The idea of Marc Andreessen, of all people, critiquing the “laptop class”—a class his venture capital money arguably helped to create and he most assuredly profits from—is so absurd as to elicit mockery of the kind unfairly given to Obama a decade ago. Unlike the former president, he actually tore down entire classes of people with a single comment.)