07/30/2012 11:48 am ET Updated Sep 29, 2012

Obama Misspoke: Fixing Economy, Not His Words, Should Be The Campaign Issue

President Obama recently caused a major stir when he stated that any American that has built a small business had the government, in part, to thank for his or her success.

"Look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own," he said.

That hit a sensitive nerve among conservatives and those in the American business community. And it once again touched off criticism that the president is too fixated with the idea that big government -- and massive stimulus spending, made possible by putting our country in deeper debt -- is still the way to go to get our economy on track.

True, any student of American history can attest that the development of our country's economy into the largest, most innovative in the world, (starting with the early development of canal and turnpike systems and continuing with the railroads, interstate highway system, etcetera) was stimulated in part by significant government investment in infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, science, military development and expansion, and educational institutions.

But in incorrectly framing that obvious fact in simplistic terms, from both historical and business perspectives, the president illustrated a basic lack of understanding that building a small business encompasses solely the will, the intelligence, the hard work, the assumption of great risk and a little luck by an entrepreneur.

It's solely the entrepreneur's ability to work hard and capitalize on available assets available as a result of both government and private initiatives that allow him or her to become successful. Obama plainly got it wrong by intricately intertwining individual entrepreneurial success with government spending and infrastructure investment.

In a speech at a campaign event in Roanoke, Va., last week, Obama outlined how the Federal government helps small businesses, telling supporters that Americans did not become successful all by themselves, but had the important help of some aspect of government to build such personal achievement.

"Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive," Obama said. "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."

Mitt Romney's campaign immediately pounced on the president's statement, accusing Obama of belittling individual initiative and entrepreneurship. Romney's campaign immediately released hard-hitting ads, titled "These hands," across the country, in which successful entrepreneurs attack the president's statement. Yesterday, the campaign organized 24 events with small business owners in 12 key battleground states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Nevada.

Obama's campaign is now fighting back, with the president in a new commercial alleging that his words are being twisted. "Those ads taking my words about small business out of context, they're flat-out wrong," Obama says in the new spot. "Of course Americans build their own businesses."

Now the fight over the economic crisis in this country is centering on Obama's awkwardly put words. It's a debate about whether the president mocks personal achievement and success in favor of a government-knows-best attitude. That faces the Democrats' less-than-successful argument against Romney that focuses on Bain greed and outsourcing.

The president's statement and the attacks against it typify one of the significant problems characterizing both the 2012 presidential campaign and the nation's inability to move ahead to fix the economy.

There's nothing really being discussed by either candidate on how proper and targeted government investment in certain infrastructure and economic and defense initiatives can fix our perilous economic crisis.

President Obama was not wrong in stating the government does help, to a certain extent, Americans achieve their dreams of wealth and success. But his record so far has not shown that.

Innovation and risk taking is not reserved for the realm of small business. Both the president and Gov. Romney need to start emulating successful small business entrepreneurs by presenting some serious, innovative ideas instead of continuing the childish "He said this" versus "I said that" dialogue.

Lots of Americans are hurt and discontented and need to hear a meaningful debate about how Washington can really help fix our nation's economy.

Published in Sun Sentinel on July 27, 2012

Steven Kurlander is a communications strategist and columnist for the Sun Sentinel and Visit his blog Kurly's Kommentary and email him at