Who built America?

Fittingly it started in Virginia, home to a market thriving with private investment in public infrastructure courtesy of a forward-thinking department of transportation.

In July, while speaking in Roanoke, US President Barack Obama in effect summed up the vital economic role of infrastructure with his, “You didn’t build that” remark.

“Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive,” Obama said, in a speech pinpointing Republican and rival White House hopeful Mitt Romney, who has touted his business acumen as head of private equity firm Bain Capital. “Somebody invested in roads and bridges.

“If you’ve got a business,” he went on, “you didn’t build that.”

The literal truth informing “You didn’t build that” is undeniable. But the context – the assertion that allegedly greedy multi-millionaire Romney hasn’t given back what he’s taken while earning his fortune and success – has been seized on as a rallying point by the Romney campaign.

Romney and new running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, have hit out at the comment as evidence that the Obama White House is in favour of ‘big government’, as well as out of touch with small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit credited with helping to build America.

On Wednesday, August 22, Ryan spoke in Roanoke, the very place where “You didn’t build that” originated. Behind him hung a navy blue curtain captioned “We did build it!”         

“You have a unique responsibility and an opportunity,’’ Ryan told the crowd. “You deliver Virginia and you save the American idea.”

Romney-Ryan are currently lagging the incumbent in Virginia, considered a crucial ‘swing state’ in the upcoming election.