Analysis of media issues, politics and current events.
Spin wise. I like “We built it” and its use at last night’s Republican Convention. It’s spin that surfs on the waters of narcissism-driven pride. Our belief in the power of the individual. And it’s a tagline ad people would have invented to sell Ayn Rand to the public like Corn Flakes. It’s absolutely appealing. It’s also absolutely not true that way it’s communicated.
The genius of the phrase “We built it” is that it’s a line that, at first pass, seem to unite people who believe in personal potential. But really, it coyly divides that same group. At one level, it seems to be a rallying cry of rugged individualism. A tribute the power within every person to great. Something we can all believe in.
But “We built it” is really a sly wink at a group within that larger group that believe they, more than others, are true rugged, productive individualists. It’s similar to how some people think there are REAL Americans and unreal Americans within people who have citizenship in America. At some point, those who really believe THEY built things may turn around to their employees or people who can’t tie what they do directly to profits, but might also believe in self-reliance and say to them, “Who’s we Kimosabe? This is my business. That’s my name on the door. ‘I built it.’”
The “we” in “we built it” in practice and political thinking among those at the top of the GOP doesn’t mean workers on the assembly line who put the pieces of a car together with their bare hands. “We” means the people who own the business. Like Paul Ryan’s favorite author Ayn Rand believes, the owner is only the true builder and creative. Everyone else around your work are worthless leeches feeding of the creator’s idea.
And how soon we forget the original version of “We built it.” It’s just a remix of George W. Bush’s “Ownership Society” that he tried to launch in his second term.
The ownership society was his plan to transform America into platform for expanded privatization and individual responsibility that as he said would make America a nation of “owners.” Fine. Nothing wrong with being a success in business or being given the opportunity and incentive to be successful in business. But like “We built it,” the idea was designed to be different things for different people. There are owners who, as expected in capitalism, get to own rewards for their success and ownership of their private risk-taking enterprise. And there are those that are owned by the owners. Employees. The only thing the second group is truly allowed to own is to find the means for their own survival. As in “you’re on your own.” The Bush Administration’s version of “owning” for the common folk was that you got to own the responsibility for Social Security (by giving your retirement money in Social Security to other owners like the investment community) as he used the ownership society theme to start the ball rolling to try to privatize it.
Turned out people didn’t want to own that so much.
Both “We built it” and the ownership society are ideas that don’t take into account, the people we depend on to do certain jobs. People who, in taking those roles, can’t be entrepreneurial or owners.
Teachers. Soldiers. Cops. According to followers of Ayn Rand and those who worship her, only those that earn profit, these are the leeches of society.
Even if they work for a private company, by definition, people like cops and soldiers have to work within a system. They’ll never be the owners. There’s no place for them in the I-built-it world. And when it’s time to write the check with something that costs more than “ I respect your service,” the rhetoric for these non-owners/non builders is they’re overpaid.
The problem I have with “We Built It’ is that underneath the underlying message is hard work is only work that makes a profit. And the only work that’s deserving of true praise.
I started two businesses. Profit is the reward for the risk. Usually a financial risk. But what about others who take risks? Soldiers and cops that risk their lives? Bankrupt for them is being dead. Not going off and court another venture capitalist to fund the next project. Sure we’ll put cops, teachers, soldiers and firefighters on our Facebook pages and say how much we love them. But remember just two years ago when the public acted like a mob and attacked people salaries and pensions as if these people were the new welfare queens? Yes there are some sucky teachers, but I also know teachers that “build” new scientists, leaders, writers everyday. They too can say, “I built it.” But since they can’t make it at a profit, “who cares?” say some. People who seem to be invisible to people like the TEA Party and Mitt Romney because a safe community or next scientist doesn’t show up on the bottom line.
Like I said, “we built it” is a form of narcissism and self-importance hiding as simple pride. As fact checkers have pointed out, many who have stumped or given testimony to say, “I built it” are often quickly shown that they did indeed get help along the way. Often showing they were for very much for social support or government help-until they start making a profit. Then presto!- they’re transformed into privatization advocates with amnesia.
Like the New Hampshire, the metal-shop owner who claimed, “We built it” and was a Romney campaign testifier until the press revealed his firm took in millions in small business loans. The candidate running for LT. Governor of Delaware who also proudly said she and her husband built their business without the government help -while at the same time making money in telling people how to snag government contracts. Selling her business to entrepreneurs at a Delaware business conference by saying to build your business “With your BIGGEST secret weapon!” the presentation read. “You start with the no cost/low-cost resources that you, the taxpayer, have already paid for.” She even did a video for the SBA on how government loans helps business including hers.
While this theme of “I built it” by the GOP is taking place in a convention center in Tampa built with government dollars.
Irony. Phone call for you from Tampa.
I’m not advocating socialism. And the other side of “We built it” isn’t love of socialism. It’s acceptance of the fact that though we may take a lead in making something happen, and are allowed to benefit and prosper from taking risks for our enterprise, we rarely get there alone. I’m more annoyed in the same way a director of a movie would claim he built a blockbuster movie all by themselves. Yes, it’s your movie. Your name on it. And your contract deal lets you keep most of the movie profits. But you have to step over and ignore lot of people-gaffers, sound people, editors, etc. to make a claim, it was all you. It’s a belief not supported by reality. Only narcissism.
This idea of “We built it” was built on Ayn Rand’s ideas. But it’s not built on a concern for those who don’t get credit for building profits. Just stuff we need.