Paging the White House Fact Checkers

As President Barack Obama travels the country making the case for expanding government, one of his favorite tactics is sharing stories about private companies that would never have succeeded without public investment. In a speech last week in Seattle, Obama said:

“When I hear my opponent and some of these folks talk as if somehow nobody had anything to do with the success of these businesses and our entrepreneurs, I have to remind them that we — we the people — invested in creating the Internet that allowed Microsoft and Google and Facebook to thrive.”

Too bad for Obama, those “folks” turned out be right. It was the President who needed a reminder. In an editorial yesterday, The Wall Street Journal offered a short history lesson.

Microsoft—a product of the Internet? That may surprise Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who founded the software company in 1975. The company didn’t introduce its first Internet browser for another 20 years, and in the meantime it became the dominant computer software company long before the Internet became economically important. The irony of Mr. Obama’s error is that for much of Microsoft’s history the Internet was seen as a threat to its desktop dominance.

Given that dozens of aides review every speech that the Presidents delivers, it’s hard to believe that no one caught this glaring error. No wonder presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney wants to make the case that Obama and his aides doesn’t understand how the economy works. They really don’t.

  1. Spin

    Echoing KC and Redneck:  The kind of “investment” we conservatives are against are the ones where we tax the heck out of the people then turn that money over to financial institutions and other corporations based on our own sense of where the money should go.  There is a fundamental difference between the government building something it needs which later is used by private industry, and the government passing out cash to private industry based on some central planners notion of what is good.

  2. EJHill

    The commercial operation of the internet would be have been impossible had Microsoft and IBM and Apple not made the personal computer a consumer electronic success.

  3. Kervinlee

    My guess is that none of the “dozens of aides” were even around before 1975.

  4. Mike Riscili

    I think the lack of of fact-checking is a feature rather than a bug of Obama 1.0.  Let’s make sure it goes the way of Microsoft Vista.  

  5. Indaba

    They really, really do not understand business and even though they have followed Keynes, they do not understand the “animal spirits” that Keynes labelled. Owners are depressed right now by the future of America which they see as socialist, at their cost. When the Press Sec of the White House asks that Romney declare how many jobs he created at Bain, this just makes business owners’ eyes roll. Who counts that number? It is the government’s job to count jobs created, not business. Obama has created how many jobs which he pays for from his own payroll, not by tax payer money? How many? Zero, you say. If he has a scrap of interest in business, he would know Microsoft’s trial by fire and the Netscape story which was written about in The New, New Thing. Don’t they have any business majors working in the White House. It is one of the business legends and even if you were born in 1990, if you are in business, you know this story. Guess this goes along with Gore inventing the internet.

  6. Indaba

    This government seems to not have a clue about how private equity works and how hard it is. The companies they invest in have not been able to get money from the banks and are often heading for the waterfall of death.

    Redneck Desi: The rest of the editorial discusses the difference between funding research versus venture capital. The govt is good at the former and abysmal at the other. No one is talking about not funding the NIH or DARPA. Romney has talked about this before, but he needs to continue to argue this point because the conventional media is not. · 2 hours ago

  7. ctruppi

    The biggest problem as I see it is a matter of perspective.  Let’s assume that Obama is right about the gov’t creating the internet.  Where his logic fails is that no one in the gov’t targeted this specific technology as the “wave of the future” as he has done with green energy .  An infrastucture was created by the military that eventually evolved and grew organically into what exploded decades later as the internet that we know today.  That is a far cry from the gov’t picking an industry and throwing billions of tax payer dollars at it.

  8. Guruforhire

    I am sure that ATT and UC Berkley would have something to say about all this as well.

  9. Roy Lofquist

    Microsoft had little interest in the internet. Netscape (the ancestor of Firefox) was the only game in town. Then an exec from Netscape enthused at a conference that Netscape would eventually replace the desktop – current incarnations of browsers are fully capable of doing just that. Microsoft responded with Internet Explorer (still a scraggly mongrel) and the rest is history.

  10. Barkha Herman

    I think that (fact checkers catching errors) would work in a non-religious context.  However, what we have in the White House and the media right now  is a religious following, not a normal Government by the people, for the people situation.

    In the case of Obama, it’s all about faith.

  11. Mel Foil

    You’re forgetting, until Barack Obama is involved in history, history doesn’t exist. So, if Obama started using Microsoft products in 1997, then that’s when Microsoft became a significant player.

  12. Fred Cole

    He is trying to channel Elizabeth Warren or something?

    And Obama’s speechwriters are notoriously bad at fact checking. 

  13. Sisyphus

    The One speaks only Ex Cathedra, fact checkers would be an unnecessary government expense. After all, he did promise to reduce the federal debt.

  14. Jager

    Shouldn’t he be thanking Al Gore in all this

  15. RetroGeek

    That’s so taking far more credit than is due.  Yes, the origins of the Internet lie partly in government-funded programs.  But the Internet as we know it today really did not exist until the late 80′s/early 90′s when it was opened up to COMMERCIAL interests.  Then it took off, making things like Google and Facebook viable.  If it hadn’t been for the free market, we’d still be running command line searches on Usenet (and probably doing it on green screens).

  16. Jonathan Horn
    C

    Jager, excellent point about Al Gore.

    Jager: Shouldn’t he be thanking Al Gore in all this · 4 minutes ago

  17. KC Mulville

    The problem here is Obama’s confused notion of a public good.

    Suppose that Warren Buffett decided to commission a sculpture for the front of his offices. The sculptor turns out to be Mikey Angleo, and he produces a work of such beauty that it rivals the Pieta. The sculpture gives incredible joy to millions of observers.

    Question: do observers owe anything to Warren Buffett?

    No. Buffett commissioned the sculpture for his own pleasure, and the fact that others enjoy it takes nothing away from Buffett. That makes it a public good.

    As for the internet, the whole thing started as a military network. It was built for the US government to address military needs. But having built the intellectual foundation for a global network, that knowledge and know-how became public goods. The fact that the tech companies invented clever and exciting uses on top of the technology (i.e., they enjoyed and exploited the public good) takes nothing away from the military or government.

    In other words, when you create a public good, no one owes you anything for it. The internet (including the knowledge and ken to create and maintain it) is a public good.

  18. Redneck Desi

    The rest of the editorial discusses the difference between funding research versus venture capital. The govt is good at the former and abysmal at the other. No one is talking about not funding the NIH or DARPA. Romney has talked about this before, but he needs to continue to argue this point because the conventional media is not.

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