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We all built it, together with our taxes

It's a presidential election year, so we're being bombarded with pointed phrases to catch our attention and inflame our political passions.

Much of the time these lines are the opponent's words, turned against him or her.

And most of the time, the words being wielded as a political bludgeon are selectively edited.

As my granddad, who could recite you verbatim any Old or New Testament passage you wanted at the drop of a hat, used to say, you can find anything you want to support your argument in the Good Book as long as you don't necessarily use it as the Lord intended.

The same creative copy cutting option goes for political ads.

It happened to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney when, during his party's primaries, he said, in part, "I'm not concerned about the very poor."

Now a Barack Obama phrase has become the motto of the Republican National Convention underway in Tampa.

Who builds what: "We Built It" signs filled the Tampa Convention Center. The phrase was even painted on the exterior of the building. And during last night's opening session, Republican convention speakers repeatedly referred to the phrase.

We Built It

But more than a celebration of American entrepreneurship and ingenuity, it's a dig at Obama, turning a portion of his words on the president that Romney hopes to unseat.

Admittedly, Obama was a bit clumsy in expressing his point when speaking to a group in Virginia on July 13 he said, in full:

"If you've been successful you didn't get there on your own. … If you were successful somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The point is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative but [also] because we do things together. So we say to ourselves ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. … You're not alone. We're in this together."

If you don't trust my transcription, you can watch the relevant portion of the speech and hear "you didn't build that" in context yourself.

Diminishing all our efforts: In addition to trying to slam the president for, according the GOP spin machine, believing that all businesses must rely totally on government to succeed, the parroters of the out-of-context phrase are trying to diminish the help we all get daily from government, local and federal.

In today's New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof reminds us that we all, together, are the secret weapon to making America better.

He notes how one of the GOP convention speakers, Sher Valenzuela, who also is running for lieutenant governor of Delaware, built her successful company in part by utilizing $2 million in Small Business Administration loans, as well as $15 million in government contracts.

You're welcome, Ms. Valenzuela. We all are proud to be a part of your success.

And Kristof also gives the Obama partial quote another shot, this time via a similar statement, more eloquently made last year by Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for one of Massachusetts' U.S. Senate seats:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own -- nobody! You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you all were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. … You built a factory, and it turned into something terrific or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

Yes, we all built it. And we all should be glad to do so.

To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., taxes are what we pay so that together we can build a better civilization.

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I think those who jump on Obama for his syntax (that's the issue here, not the content of his speech) expose their own ignorance. And somewhere, Sister Mary Ignatius is scratching her head that her students, now grown up are not able to diagram his sentences.
Unfortunately, Romney's "I'm not concerned about the very poor" never got much better. At best, he has a mistaken belief that the programs in place to help the poor are actually sufficient.

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