obama-romney

Who built that?

Obama vs. Romney vs. Brecht Smackdown

Bertolt Brecht

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19 July, 2012

I've avoided writing comments on US politics, mostly, but here's something that really needs another perspective. Mitt Romney has seized upon a comment of Barack Obama in a campaign speech:


If you are 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 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 then 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.
           

Romney mocks this statement as anti-capitalist, anti-entrepreneur, which to a certain extent it is; at least, it is opposed to the maximalist Führerprinzip of heroic capitalism. This is how Romney puts it:


To say that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple, that Henry Ford didn’t build Ford Motor, that Papa John didn’t build Papa John pizza, that Ray Kroc didn’t build McDonald’s, that Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft … to say something like that is not just foolishness, it’s insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in America, and it’s wrong.

Well, sorry if they're insulted, but they seem to have a pretty thin skin. The left has been defending Obama by saying this is twisting his words out of context (which it is), and that Obama LOVES entrepreneurs, which is also probably true. But the fact that they are fighting on these terms just shows how low the left has sunk, both intellectually and spiritually. There was a time when the left could have said, the entrepreneurs and business leaders certainly have their roles to play, but they are not the only ones making a contribution to the country, or to building a business. (Well, there were also those on the left saying that the entrepreneurs and business leaders are thieves and scoundrels, who will be the first with their backs up against the wall when the revolution comes.)

As so often, the quintessential formulation of this apparently difficult political concept comes from Bertolt Brecht: "Who built the seven-gated Thebes/ In the books I find only the names of kings./Did the kings lug the massive stones?/...Caesar smashed the Gauls./ Didn't he at least have a cook?" So the proper response to Romney would be, "Steve Jobs built Apple. By himself? Didn't he at least have a cook?"


Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters
Bertolt Brecht

Wer baute das siebentorige Theben
In den Büchern stehen die Namen von Königen. 
Haben die Könige die Felsbrocken herbeigeschleppt? 
Und das mehrmals zerstörte Babylon,
Wer baute es so viele Male auf? In welchen Häusern 
Des goldstrahlenden Lima wohnten die Bauleute?
Wohin gingen an dem Abend, wo die chinesische Mauer fertig war, 
Die Maurer? Das große Rom 
Ist voll von Triumphbögen. Über wen
Triumphierten die Cäsaren? Hatte das vielbesungene Byzanz 
Nur Paläste für seine Bewohner? Selbst in dem sagenhaften Atlantis
Brüllten doch in der Nacht, wo das Meer es verschlang, 
Die Ersaufenden nach ihren Sklaven. 
Der junge Alexander eroberte Indien. 
Er allein? 
Cäsar schlug die Gallier. 
Hatte er nicht wenigstens einen Koch bei sich? 
Philipp von Spanien weinte, als seine Flotte 
Untergegangen war. Weinte sonst niemand? 
Friedrich der Zweite siegte im Siebenjährigen Krieg. Wer 
Siegte außer ihm? 
Jede Seite ein Sieg. 
Wer kochte den Siegesschmaus? 
Alle zehn Jahre ein großer Mann. 
Wer bezahlte die Spesen?
So viele Berichte,

So viele Fragen.

Questions from a Worker who Reads
Bertolt Brecht

Who built the seven-gated Thebes
In the books I find only the names of kings.
Did the kings lug the massive stones?
And Babylon was razed and pillaged again and again
Who rebuilt it each time? And shimmering Lima, decked with gold --
where were the construction workers' houses?
When the Great Wall was completed, on that very evening,
the masons headed for home. Where to? Great Rome
Is crammed full of triumphal arches. Whom
Did the Caesars conquer? In storied Byzantium,
did its occupants dwell only in palaces? Even in legendary Atlantis,
In the very night that the sea swallowed it up,
The drowners howled for their slaves.
Young Alexander conquered India.
By himself?
Caesar smashed the Gauls.
Didn't he at least have a cook?
Philip of Spain wept, an seeing his fleet
Sunk. Did no one else weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Years War. Who
Else won?
Every page a victory.
Who cooked the victory feast?
Every decade another Great Man.
Who paid the expenses?
So many accounts,

So many questions.







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