Amid signs that Republican Mitt Romney’s attacks on President Obama’s economic views are having an impact, Mr. Obama is trying for the second straight week to clarify his comments that self-made entrepreneurs aren’t entirely responsible for their own success.
At a campaign event in California Monday night, Mr. Obama accused the Romney campaign of “splicing and dicing” his controversial comments for partisan gain. And he tried to emphasize his belief in American entrepreneurship.
“I believe with all my heart that it is the drive and the ingenuity of Americans who start businesses that lead to their success,” Mr. Obama told supporters at a rally in Oakland. “I always have and I always will. The ability for somebody who’s willing to work hard, put in their sweat and their sacrifice to turn their idea into a profitable business, that’s the nature of America. That’s what helped make our economy the envy of the world.”
The president is still trying to explain away comments he made on the stump on July 13 in Roanoke, Va., when he implied that entrepreneurs don’t deserve all the credit for their own success.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help … Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive,” Mr. Obama said at the time. “Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Mr. Romney and his Republican allies have seized on those remarks, turning into an anti-Obama TV commercial and a campaign theme that the president doesn’t understand American capitalism.
And there’s evidence the attacks are gaining traction with voters. A USA/Today Gallup poll released Monday found that a record number of Americans express skepticism about Mr. Obama’s view of the activist role of government: 61 percent say the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Gallup said it was the highest number since the polling outfit began asking the question in 1992.
And despite the Obama campaign’s relentless attacks on Mr. Romney’s record at Bain Capital, the survey found that 63 percent of the public believes the Republican would do well handling the economy as president, with only 29 percent viewing him unfavorably on the economy.
Even Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat and a friend of the president, suggested Monday that he didn’t agree with Mr. Obama’s remarks.
“Everyone knows that when someone builds a business and is successful, they’re successful for a variety of reasons,” Mr. Casey told an audience in Harrisburg, Pa. “One of the reasons they’re successful is they work hard. Usually, sometimes they just get lucky, but a lot of the times — probably most of the time, at least in terms of people I’ve talked to over the years, it’s hard work.”
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the president’s views are revealing and wrong-headed.
“Americans everywhere — including Senator Bob Casey, a prominent Obama supporter — all agree: government isn’t responsible for building our nation’s businesses,” she said in a statement. “It’s just the latest out-of-touch remark from a president who has consistently made life more difficult for job creators and middle-class workers. Mitt Romney will deliver a new direction by pursuing pro-growth policies that help entrepreneurs create new businesses and hire new workers.”
The president said Monday night that this latest attack on him is just election-year politics.
“Now, look, in politics we all tolerate a certain amount of spin,” he said. “I understand these are the games that get played in political campaigns, although when folks just omit entire sentences of what you said … they start kind of splicing and dicing, you may have gone a little over the edge there.”
He said there’s a “real choice at stake” in the election and accused Mr. Romney of favoring “top-down” economics that go against the American tradition.
“We built this country together — individual entrepreneurs taking advantage of opportunities and putting their sweat and tears into it, and all of us making investments in things like public schools and public colleges and universities, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s how we sent a man to the moon. If Mr. Romney does not understand that, then he doesn’t understand what it takes to build an economy where everybody has a shot to succeed — from the worker who punches a clock to the entrepreneur who wants to take a chance on a new idea.”