The theme of day one from the Republican National Convention was loud and clear: “We Built It” signs were everywhere in the hall, and speaker after speaker repeated the message in one form or another—that those of us who made it did it by the sweat of our own brows, we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, without help from anyone, especially not from government.
Sure you did. You built the schools you went to and paid the teachers yourself, you laid the sidewalks you walked on, you paved the roads you drove on, you kept your own communities crime-free all by yourself, you put out fires on your own, you made the air you breathed and the water you drank pure, you made your home and the buildings you worked in and the cars you drove in safe, without benefit of building codes or collision standards, you personally built the colleges and universities you attended, the libraries you studied in, without the help of taxpayers or alumni donors, when you got a job you personally negotiated the length of your workweek, workplace safety rules, your salary, your vacation time, your holidays and your retirement benefits. No labor movement came before you to secure those hard-won rights. Nobody else pooled their money with yours for your health insurance. No taxpayers are responsible for your military pension. The big, bad, over-reaching, intrusive government, other men and women with vision and a commitment to idea of the common good, built none of the world you take for granted, had no part in any of that. You did it all by yourself.
This was exactly the point President Obama was making in the speech that the “We Built It” slogan mocks. The RNC shamefully edited the president’s remarks to make it appear as though he said something he didn’t—that government, not the individual business owners, were responsible for building their businesses. Nobody at the convention seems the least troubled that the whole thing is based on a lie.
Just as disturbing as the colossal self-serving falsehood of total self-reliance is the barely-concealed racism and classism of the theme. We know, of course, who DIDN’T do it by themselves. Lazy blacks and hispanics and the poor, all those who took handouts they didn’t deserve from the taxpayers rather than work hard for what they got like WE did. Reagan’s welfare queen updated and repackaged to include those still looking for work in this endless recession, the ill and the injured who can’t work, the millions without health insurance, the working poor, the foreclosed, the simply unlucky.
Most alarming of all is that the speakers actually seem to believe this nonsense—that turning away from the very social contract that made us a great, wealthy and powerful nation will somehow create a glittering future based on the triumphant ideal of every man for himself. God help us all, because we won’t be helping each other.