Who Built What? Diving Deeper Into This Season's Campaign Rhetoric

Sep 25, 2012

When StateImpact reporter Emily Corwin set out to understand what the slogan 'we built this' means for business and the economy in New  Hampshire, she thought she’d find a lot of disagreement. But in the end – it didn’t work out that way.

Jack Gilchrist is an excitable guy, whether he’s ejecting a mouse from his patio with an aluminum dustpan, or speaking on behalf of small businessmen in this Romney campaign ad:  

We did build this business. why are you demonizing us for it?

After President Obama made this remark: “Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that,”Jack Gilchrist, who runs a metal fabricating business in Hudson, was sought out by the Romney campaign to record the ad. He says the demon-ization of entrepreneurs? It’s real.

"I think this is personal.  What happens if I fail? I personally guarantee all debt and all risk. Every bit of risk is backed up in everything I own," Gilchrist says. "I have 5 broken teeth in my head which I've broke in my sleep from clenching and grinding."

Since his campaign ad and speech at the Republican Convention, Gilchrist has received almost 800 emails and voicemails – about half of which are supportive. New Hampshire economist Brian Gottlob isn’t surprised Gilchrist’s message is striking a nerve:

Business people, entrepreneurs have to have a lot of self-reliance, they put in a lot of hours, so if you want to incite them, a great way to do that is to suggest that they have succeeded for a reason other than their own initiative.

Brian Gottlob is a free market economist. He’s all about lean government. But, he says, a lot of business people don’t appreciate the way that government influences a business environment:

They don't necessarily think about the fact that we have laws and a structure that allows them to operate and do so confidently.

Kedar Gupta runs an international tech business in Nashua. Gupta moved the United States from India with $5 in his pocket and a scholarship to college. Now, he’s a billionaire – and he credits federal and state government with a large part of his success. Gupta says sure, he worked 18 hour days for years. But without a transparent government, without small business loans, and most of all, without the Export-Import Bank of the United States 

Emily, I'm sure you would not be coming to talk to me.

Gupta says businesses are not created on an island:

Every businessman wants to have taxes so low they don't have any tax. But think about if you do that, will you be able to create a society, so it has to be a balance.

Balance. Just what economist Brian Gottlob is waxing nostalgic for. Gottlob worries that anything that drives a wedge between business and government? Will make it hard for new Hampshire to maintain its economic advantage in the region.  Believe it or not, Gottlob is longing for the recession of the early 1990’s. He says back then, government and business interests sat down together to solve problems:

They came up with an adjustment to the tax structure that broadened business taxes, from the BPT to the BET, which captured a lot more businesses... I think we have those issues now, but I don't see willingness or an interest in sitting down and saying 'how do we work these out?'

The funny thing is – even Jack Gilchrist says he finds President Obama's – and Governor Romney’s—rhetoric divisive, and unproductive:

When we peel off the layers of that misinformation, we're really not very far apart. there's not a lot of way righties and way lefties out there. So we need to be reasonable, and we need to make conversation with each other, not talking points.

Gilchrist keeps a folder in his email inbox called “haters.” In it, there are 400 angry emails, mostly from Obama supporters.  Gilchrist has written back to every single one. And, he says, over and over -- he’s finding a middle ground.