President Obama is learning this lesson the hard way as he tries to explain away a controversy that revolves around four simple words: "You didn't build that."
Emphasis on "that." There would be no controversy if we could establish without a doubt exactly what Obama meant by "that."
This story should have died out by now. But both sides are keeping it alive.
Supporters of Mitt Romney are using Obama's July 13 Roanoke, Va., remarks about American business as a chew toy because they claim the comments illustrate that the president doesn't have the foggiest idea how much effort and sacrifice it takes to launch a successful small business.
Defenders of Obama are using the remarks — and the Republican response to them — to raise contributions from donors because they claim the whole hullabaloo shows that electing Romney would mean politics as usual, and lead to funding cuts in the public infrastructure that helps small businesses succeed.
Here's what Obama said:
"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."
If the audience in Roanoke is in any way representative of Obama's supporters, the Democratic Party is in bad shape.
A century ago, this was the party of labor and working-class dreams. Now it's the party of envy and pettiness. It's not where you go to be challenged or pushed. It's where you go if you want to be told that it's not your fault that you're not as successful as the next guy.
That's a sickness. The president should be trying to cure it. Instead, he is enabling it.