TAMPA, Fla. -- In their zeal to counter President Barack Obamas statement that businesspeople didnt build that, Republicans at their convention this week are rushing so far in the other direction that theyre all but denying any government role in American history.
The Republican National Convention devoted a portion of Tuesday night to blast Obamas handling of the economy, using the presidents line as a rallying cry while trumpeting the virtues of up-by-your bootstraps American entrepreneurship.
The role of the federal government what it does and doesnt do has become a flash point on the campaign trail. Obama and Democrats generally contend that government should lend a helping hand to businesses and individuals who might not otherwise make it on their own
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his party maintain that Washington policy plays a limited role in entrepreneurial success, and is often more of a hindrance than a help.
In pushing that theme this week, though, some of the speakers have left out part of the story.
In a convention floor speech Tuesday night, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin boasted that people rushed into her state in the Great Land Run of 1889 with only their own grit to thank, and no help from the federal government.
And in 1897, eight years after the land run, a handful of adventurous pioneers risked their own money not the federal governments money to drill Oklahomas first oil well, the Nellie Johnstone, she told conventioneers.
However, Fallins characterization omitted major chunks of federal government involvement, including the Dawes Act of 1887 and other measures that forced Indian tribes onto reservations, freeing open surplus lands for white settlers. Oil later was found on some of that land. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided the method by which the land was distributed to settlers.
Those pioneers who came to settle in Indian territory were benefited by federal government largess at every hand, said historian W. David Baird, dean emeritus of Pepperdine Universitys Seaver College. The federal government . . . surveyed the raw land into sections, ranges and townships so than individual plots could be legally described. In 1889 and subsequently, the U.S. Army orchestrated the dramatic runs for 160-acre parcels of land or town lots, which were then registered with a U.S. government land office.
Fallins characterization was intended to be a Republican rebuttal to Obamas view of how some businesses succeed. Romneys campaign and the party say that the president said in a speech that owners of successful businesses didnt build that.
Obama said in a speech in Roanoke, Va., in July that if youve been successful, you didnt get there on your own.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help, he said. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If youve got a business you didnt build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didnt get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet.