The [Obama Truth] Team then explains: "The President's full remarks show that the 'that' in 'you didn't build that' clearly refers to roads and bridges--public infrastructure we count on the government to build and maintain."Although they are not even willing to go this far, the president's defenders are saying in effect, "Come on, give him the benefit of the doubt. You know he really didn't mean it like that." Just for the sake of argument, let's try that shoe on the other foot. Imagine if Mitt Romney said this in a speech:
That's bunk, and not only because "business" is more proximate to the pronoun "that" and therefore its more likely antecedent. The Truth Team's interpretation is ungrammatical. "Roads and bridges" is plural; "that" is singular. If the Team is right about Obama's meaning, he should have said, "You didn't build those."
Sure, I think it's great for the government to provide low cost medical care and women's health services to those who can't afford it. But if you want a contraceptive, I don't think you should get that.Liberals would be falling all over themselves to get in front of a microphone to say: "Mitt Romney wants to ban contraceptives!" And grammatically, they'd have a point. "That" more logical applies to the singular and more proximate "contraceptive" rather than the plural "low cost medical care and women's health services" from the preceding sentence. Instead, Romney's theoretical statement should be:
Sure, I think it's great for the government to provide low cost medical care and women's health services to those who can't afford it. But if you want a contraceptive, I don't think you should get those.The construction is still awkward, as was President Obama's statement, but at least it would be clear that "those" referred to "low cost medical care and women's health services." The point Romney would be making is that the government should not be paying for contraceptives, which would be entirely consistent with his position stated often elsewhere. But if he used the former statement rather than the latter, his foes would latch onto "that" as evidence of his desire to oppress women, especially poor women, because it fits their preconceived notions of Romney, however caricatured those notions are.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, has given us plenty of reason to doubt his commitment to small business and free enterprise. It's not much of a stretch to get from "spread the wealth around" to "you didn't build that." Is it any wonder that his listeners are inclined to take his latest words at face value?
UPDATE: I've been informed by one reader that my theoretical Romney statement is wholly inadequate. I'm having a hard time disagreeing. Perhaps I should stop writing blog posts after midnight.