Barack Obama

America Was Not Built on Dirt Alone

It's not entirely clear why so many people feel the need to explain what America was built on.


The Earth's crust is 20 to 30 miles thick. This is a darn good thing, because there is a godawful lot of stuff in it—especially here in North America.

We have this on the authority of prominent public figures such as Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. In a recent Op/Ed column McDonnell blasted the Obama administration's shift in welfare policy. "Our nation," McDonnell wrote, "was built on a commitment to the dignity and necessity of work."

But that's not all our nation was built on. Nosirree. According to House Speaker John Boehner, "America is a nation built on freedom." Majority Whip Eric Cantor agrees: "America was built on a culture of opportunity," he told an audience at Harvard. Rep. Randy Forbes thinks likewise: "Our nation was built on the premise that we are the 'land of the free,' and that includes economic freedom."

From statements such as those, you might conclude Republicans have a pretty good idea what America was built on. Well. To quote Abby Bartlett in "The West Wing," you can just "stand there in your wrongness and be wrong." Back in April, President Obama told an Ohio audience Republicans "don't seem to remember how America was built."

But the President sure does! "America," he says, "was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity." And "the promise of equality and full participation for all." Also, "America was built on innovation," and on "the hard work and ingenuity of our people and our businesses." Not to mention "a belief that the best progress comes from ordinary citizens." It's all right there in the archives, go check it out.

Of course you would expect Obama to say stuff like that. But Ginny Meerman knows better. Meerman is a beauty pageant consultant who got so fed up with the liberal pantywaists who run beauty pageants that she decided to start her own. Last month she launched (I swear I am not making this up) the Miss Conservative U.S.A. Pageant. As she sees it, "America was built on conservatism, not liberalism, and here we are. Booyah!"

It's not entirely clear why so many people feel the need to explain what America was built on. It is entirely clear, however, that the country always seems to be built on ideas they happen to embrace. You never seem to hear anyone say, "I don't believe in such-and-such, but hey, that's what America was built on. Whattaya gonnado?"

What else was America built on? "Christian principles" (Idaho Rep. Bill Sali); "Christian and Jewish values" (Texas state rep. Debbie Riddle); "biblical principles" (Oklahoma pregnancy center member Shelly Louis); and "the Bible" (Warren Delafield, a supporter of Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy). Five bucks says none of them is a Taoist. Of course, many people insist America was emphatically not built on Christian principles, but none of them goes by "The Rev."

It should be noted that not everything America was built on was good – heavens, no. Just ask Bonnie Greer, who contends, in London's Guardian, that America was built on racism. Then there are those who say America was built on slavery – although it is hard to find the original authors of such statements. Mostly what you find are conservatives who say things such as: "The 'America was built on slavery and genocide' meme is a central pillar of leftist anti-Americanism" (Hollywood writer Mark Tapson).

Now you might be wondering: If America was built on all this stuff, is there anything it was not built on? Of course! America was "not built on the generosity of the federal government" (Rick Perry). America was "not built on football mania" (Janine Turner, Washington Examiner). It was "not built on hate" (Cardinal Theodore McCarrick). And it certainly was "not built on victims" (

Just as he knows what the country was built on, President Obama also is an expert on what it was not built on. For example, last month he told a Jacksonville audience that "this country was not built on top-down economics." Also, "this country was not built on greed." What's more, America was "not built on how much we consume or some sort of Ponzi schemes."

That clears up a lot. Still, many questions remain. For instance: How was America built? How was it not built? What built it, and what didn't? Who built it, and whom did they build it for?

The president can answer some of those questions, too: "America is not built from the top down," he said a few days ago. Letting insurance companies "decide to drop your coverage when you need it most" is "not what built America." And just in case anyone thought otherwise, the president wants to make the following perfectly clear: "America was not built by any single individual.  We built it together." Who knew?

As for the other questions, they will just have to wait until his second term, if there is one.


This column originally appeared at the Richmind Times-Dispatch. 

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  1. A. Barton Hinkle the Foundation Upon Which America Was Built

    A. Barton Hinkle is the foundation upon which America was built? That’s news to me.

    1. DAMN you, Longtorso, and your quick, limber fingers and superior typing speed!

      1. DAMN you, Longtorso, and your quick, limber fingers

        That’s what SHE said.

    2. It’s an obvious typo – The Barton Hinkle was the Foundation. We’re stuck with just a Barton Hinkle, the Foundation for the occasional Reason article

  2. A. Barton Hinkle is the foundation upon which the US was built?!

    YOU ARE AN AMAZING MAN, A. BARTON HINKLE!! Or should I call you “A. Barton ATLAS”?!

    Kudos, sir. Kudos.

  3. I thought we built this city on rock n roll?

    1. And damn YOU Tim, although, in fairness, it took a minute to copy/paste the link in my post…

      1. I laugh at your impotent rage…

  4. “America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity …[and] a belief that the best progress comes from ordinary citizens.” It’s all right there in the archives, go check it out.

    Oh, it may be in the *archives*, but show me where in the *Constitution* ….

  5. And what about cities? What are cities built on? Well, we know at least one was built on rock and roll.

    1. Please don’t resurrect that abortion of a song again.

      1. Grace Slick has more street cred than all the rappers in Hollywood:

        March 6, 1994
        Former Jefferson Starship lead singer Grace Slick was arrested Saturday for allegedly aiming a gun at police who had come to her house in Tiburon, Calif., and ordering them to leave. Officers from the Tiburon Police Department went to the singer’s home after receiving a call at 3:30 a.m. from an intoxicated man who said a drunken woman was firing a shotgun in the house. Slick came to the door carrying a shotgun, pointed it at the officers and yelled at them to leave her property, police said. Slick refused to drop the shotgun, and an officer wrestled the gun away from her when her attention was diverted.


        1. OG, Original Grace Slick

        2. I don’t buy it. Everyone knows if you open the door for the cops at 3 am, let alone point a gun at them, you end up dead.

          1. Apparently 1994 was a more innocent time.

          2. Not in a place like Tiburon.

        3. Doesn’t matter. I have a shit load of respect for her and the band, esp. their more experimental studio work, but that song is a goddamn menace to anyone’s inner playlist. The needle will get stuck every time.

          1. I even like the cheesy mid seventy stuff.


          2. I don’t know if it is dragging due to a poor recording or if its because I’ve got Eclipse compiling several dozen files. If its doing it for you, sorries.

            Much better song to get stuck in your head than the one mentioned several post above.

  6. One this is clear – if you’re a business owner, YOU didn’t build that country.

    /El Presidente

    1. what, no-one posted that comment a split-second before you, AET? You’re losing your touch, my friend

      1. I think that only happens when he posts comments that don’t suck.

  7. I thought that America was built by community organizers who wrote two books about themselves.

    1. That’s why there is a “Community Organizer” Hall on every college campus instead of a Carnegie Hall.

    2. I wonder if he has already started writing his third autobiography, or if he’s waiting until his term is over. Maybe he’ll just have Bill Ayers write the next one.

  8. Caption contest!

    “Throw away those crutches and build America!”

  9. “Our nation was built on a commitment to the dignity and necessity of work.”

    You know who else’s …?

    1. they guy with funny mustache? Charlie Chaplin.

    2. Nick Dandolos?

  10. I was a little surprised to find that is indeed a real site.

  11. I don’t know exactly what America was built on, but you didn’t build that.

  12. You never seem to hear anyone say, “I don’t believe in such-and-such, but hey, that’s what America was built on. Whattaya gonnado?”

    I don’t believe in God, but there was some serious God-believing in the building of America.

    1. I never seem to hear you say that.

      1. Well done.

  13. America was built on conservative beauty pageants. Totally makes sense now.

    1. Is there such a thing? I mean, as George Carlin once said “Ever notice at those anti-abortion rallies? You’ve never want to fuck any of them anyway!”

      1. He confused it with the pro abortion rallies. I will take the typical anti-abortion woman over the typical women on Jezebel of Feministing any day.

        1. People that attend purely political protest rallies of any kind generally turn me off. I’m sure there are exceptions.

          1. In another skit I remember Carlin talking about going to peace rallies to get laid.

          2. OTOH, your average post-election victory party is generally well stocked with cuties. The girls, they love them some power, and a winner.

      2. That ‘Always Sunny’ episode got it exactly right. I’m a choicer by anarchist default but goddamn if I can stand being around the kind of person who actually marches at a ‘Take Back The Night’ sort of rally.

  14. The problem is that libertarians and conservatives have lost control of history. I have work collegue who is a very smart person and very good lawyer. He also gets his history from W.E.B Dubois. He honestly thinks there was no middle class anywhere in the world until western governments created the welfare state in the 1930s. You cannot convince him otherwise. His view is that we had unbridled capitalism in the 19th Century and as a result there was only the rich and poor. The whole historical narrative that I was raised on of the commercial revolution of the middle ages followed by the industrial revolution leading to a larger and larger middle class is completely lost on him. As a result, I can’t even debate politics with him because I can’t find a single fact or assumption we can agree upon.

    What is scary is that this guy is neither stupid nor alone. This is what they teach in schools now. It is a retarded half Marxist generally half assed fairy tail of reality. It is not even very good Marxist thought since even Marxists admitted to the rise of the middle class in the 19th Century and embraced Leninism as a response. Basically, this guy and many others have been fed so much bullshit that you can’t even begin to get them to listen to even the smallest argument for freedom or small government.

    1. John,

      If you don’t have it in your library already, get this biography of Benjamin Franklin. Essentially 80% of the book is excerpts from his letters and diaries.

      In it, there is a passage where he describes a dinner party he attended in England, where he was entertaining questions about the colonies by astonished and wondering britishers.

      One question he was asked was why wages were so high in the New World. Franklin responded (very eloquently) that once one of your employees knew his trade, you had to bay him lots of money to make it worth his while to stick around and not to go off and start his own business.

      This was in Pennsylvania, during an era where there was no welfare state, the colonial government was practically an anarchy, markets were free, and there were still occasional indian attacks.

      Again, I highly recommend it. By the way the letter where he explains why he preferred to bed older women is all sorts of awesome.

      1. Franklin responded (very eloquently) that once one of your employees knew his trade, you had to bay him lots of money to make it worth his while to stick around and not to go off and start his own business.

        Now you pay your politician to set up so many barriers to entering the market that your employees have to take what they can get, since going into business for themselves is virtually impossible.

      2. Thanks. I will look that up. I need to read more about the colonial era.

    2. This is what they teach in schools now.

      Not just now. I remember learning that everyone’s life was exactly like The Jungle until progressives made everything better.

  15. Also, “this country was not built on greed.”

    Is that why the American colonies were such a hotbed of smuggling (in 1763, the English government set the value of smuggled tea in the colonies to be worth about 700,000 pounds sterling)?

    1. Facts. Figures. Details. Ho hum. You are getting in the way of the Socialist narrative. That makes you a racist.

    2. Of course this country was built on greed. Also slavery and violent conquest. Whatever you think of the past, we aren’t going back. History is history and it is silly to be so backwards looking. Even if it were true that the government created the middle class (which I don’t believe), that doesn’t mean that government programs are necessary to sustain it. I think that libertarians need to be more forward looking. Conservatives, I suppose must be somewhat backward looking by definition.

  16. lol, gotta love them bought and paid for politicians.

  17. America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed. -Eleanor Roosevelt, 1936


  18. “Then there are those who say America was built on slavery ? although it is hard to find the original authors of such statements. ”

    It’s hard to find Michael Moore?

  19. Imagine America built on Legos.

    I’m fed up with Obama’s narrative.

    And I’m Canadian!

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