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Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing, and she works full time in digital media with a large cable network. When she isn't at work, blogging, or washing someone's socks, Katie enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large and totally impractical, 113-year-old Victorian house.

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The Ross Murty T-Shirt Incident: Teaching Kids About Rights, Responsibility & Respect

By Katie Allison Granju |

Iowa caterer t shirt ross murty

Iowa Deli Owner Ross Murty in the T-Shirt He Wore While Being Paid To Cater an Obama Campaign Event

A few days ago, I was driving a gaggle of kids somewhere or another, and we were listening to a  conservative talk radio show during which the host was discussing  the much-reported recent incident  in which a Davenport, Iowa deli owner named Ross Murty, who had been hired by the Obama campaign to cater an event on their behalf wore a t-shirt while serving at the event making it clear he supports the other guy in the race.

Along with my 5- and 2-year-old daughters, my 14-year-old son and his same-age pal were also in the car with me, and after hearing the pundit expressing his support for Mr. Murty’s decision to wear the shirt, the two boys asked me explain what the radio show host was talking about. So I did. And it led to a really good discussion about rights, responsibilities, and respect.

By way of background, I told the boys that the shirt that Mr. Murty wore while  being paid by the Obama campaign to perform a service read, “Government Didn’t Build My Business. I Did,” a slogan that referenced a comment President Obama made  during  a speech he delivered in Virginia last month. Because I had previously looked up and read the text of the entire speech from which the comment  was taken, I was able to explain to the two boys that when taken completely out of its actual context, President Obama’s single remark about government’s role in building businesses does sound rather dismissive of  personal initiative in creating business success.

I went on to express my view to the two newly-minted high school freshmen riding in the car that while President Obama could have perhaps used more artful phrasing in making his larger point — which was that it’s important to recognize the ways that individual Americans who succeed are helped along by collaborative support from other Americans (AKA: “government”) –  his position is pretty well accepted by Americans on both sides of the political aisle. In fact, his opponent, Gov. Romney actually made much the same point in a different setting when he spoke to Olympic athletes at the opening of the 2002 Olympics, saying,  “You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power … For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities. All right! “ 

Just like President Obama in his speech last month, Gov. Romney’s comments were made in the context of a longer commentary in which he praised individual initiative, but both men point to communities providing public works and support as enhancements to that individual initiative.

After I explained the background on the slogan adorning Mr. Murty’s t-shirt, I told the boys that I believed it was really disrespectful for Mr. Murty to have worn it while serving at the event he’d been hired by the Obama campaign to cater.

“But didn’t he have a right to wear the shirt, even though it said something the Obama campiagn people didn’t like?” one of the kids asked me.

I responded by agreeing  that Mr. Murty absolutely had the right to express his political views via t-shirt slogan, and that this right is a fundamental part of being an American, but  I also cautioned the boys that every time we exercise a civil or constitutional right, we should also be thinking about our personal responsibilities, and considering whether our own actions show respect for others.

I went on to say that in my opinion, in exercising his right to criticize President Obama via t-shirt slogan in the particular way in which he did it, Mr. Murty did not consider whether his action would be respectful, or would show responsibility. In fact, I  explained to them, I found it incredibly disrespectful and rude for a small business owner to accept money from a paying customer, but to then wear a shirt that denigrated and mocked that paying customer while doing the work for which he was being paid. And that’s exactly what Ross Murty did.

I further explained to the kids in the seats behind me that my poor opinion of Mr. Murty’s behavior has zero to do with my personal support for President Obama’s campaign; I would feel exactly the same way if the situation were reversed, and a caterer being paid to serve at a Romney event wore a shirt mocking the GOP candidate in some way. I would also believe that Mr. Murty showed lack of courtesy, and ignored his responsibilities to a paying customer of his business if, for example, he agreed to cater an event hosted by Special Olympics, but then wore a shirt expressing criticism for the Americans With Disabilities Act while he served the food, or if he took money from the Veterans of Foreign Wars to prepare and serve a luncheon for them, but then wore a t-shirt reading, “U.S. Military Out of Iraq Now!” while handing out plates to the VFW’s invited guests.

Unlike the talk radio pundit who sparked the conversation I had with the kids in the car the other day, I do not see what Mr. Murty did in wearing that shirt as “courageous.”  It was simply rude, and showed tremendous lack of understanding for basic customer service, which any small business person will tell you is fundamental to success. I never want my kids to be sneaky, and it was sneaky of Mr. Murty to voluntarily accept money from a paying customer – any paying customer – in exchange for providing a service at a special event, but to then flagrantly attempt to undermine the whole point of the event for which he was being paid.

There are two kinds of “right,” I explained to the kids; while Ross Murty may have had the right to wear that much-reported-upon t-shirt, that doesn’t make it right that he chose to do so. One type of right is collective – something that all Americans share by virtue of our shared vision for what kind of country we want to live in – while the second type of “right” is about taking personal responsibility for one’s own, individual actions, and making personal decisions that reflect well on oneself, one’s family and one’s community. In some ways, I realized as I explained this to the boys, the balance of the two kinds of “right” are similar to the balance that President Obama was articulating in the speech that sparked Mr. Murty’s t-shirt slogan.

It was a good conversation. As a parent, I find that these “car talks” often are the best, because I have a captive audience for attempting to create teachable moments. I think what we talked about the other day was very important, and I really hope that the boys “got” what I was saying. But just in case I wasn’t clear enough, I think I am going to sit them both down sometime this week and introduce them to someone named Ms. Aretha Franklin…




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About Katie Allison Granju


Katie Allison Granju

Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing. Katie also enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large Victorian house. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katie Allison's latest posts →

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17 thoughts on “The Ross Murty T-Shirt Incident: Teaching Kids About Rights, Responsibility & Respect

  1. Leslie says:

    Well said. That was just bad manners.

  2. mccn says:

    Katie –

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful exposition – both to the boys and to your readers. I really appreciate how you took the time to point out that no responsibility and no right exists in a vacuum and that respect and courtesy are valuable things. I think it is easy to lose sight of that when people start beating their chests about what they have a right to do. This is really fantastic. Thanks again.

  3. jzzy55 says:

    I agree. Rude and strangely immature. If this guy is such a savvy businessman, why would he behave this way? I grew up in a business-owning family. One did not slap one’s customers in the face or act as if owning a business granted one moral superiority. It is not courageous to be rude. It’s just rude. Maybe small businesses don’t get a lot of support from government (though some do), but big ones sure do. Has this man never heard of the military-industrial complex? Agribusiness? His naiveté and lack of understanding of basic modern economics is breathtaking. Maybe we need to bring back high school civics class so people can understand the role of government better. But I doubt if we’d ever be able to agree on a textbook or curriculum.

  4. laura says:

    I think you make an excellent point with this piece, Katie. We have freedom of speech, but we also are responsible for what we say. He didn’t have to take the Obama campaign’s business, and I think his actions show that he is very unprofessional.

    Being a small business owner is difficult, and complicated, and I applaud those who take the risk to do it. But we live together on this planet, in this country, and if we don’t work together and support each other, no one is a success.

  5. Monika says:

    Bravo Katie! Very well handled. I’m tired of inappropriate, and just plain wrong, behaviour being conflated with “courage”. It does the truly courageous a disservice. I have to also take exception with the words of another poster — ” First “other Americans” would not equate to “government”. “. Government *is* citizens coming together and deciding how to organize themselves, deciding on common values and principles, and pooling their resources together to make it happen. If government isn’t the very definition of “other Americans”, then I don’t know what is.

  6. Clisby says:

    I completely agree with the overall point of your post.

    I disagree with your interpretation of what Obama said. I’ve read it, several times, in context. I suppose if one cast it in the best possible light, it would be to say that this supposedly smart Harvard-educated politician managed to screw up a completely banal statement that amounts to “we’re all in this together.” In the worst possible light, he showed disdain for successful businesspeople (my interpretation, but I could be wrong). Either way, he screwed up – so he can take the battering. Not my problem. (That’s a different debate, though.)

  7. Anne says:

    I agree with your point generally but in this case I vehemently disagree and the difference is that his customer is campaigning to become the President of the United States and is espousing views that the business owner finds he is in disagreement with. It is actually the perfect time for him to wear that t-shirt to make that point. If a rich company wants to make a point they have the money to buy lobbyists, advertising etc. He has the right to make that kind of point any way that he wants and some might say he has a duty to make it otherwise he looks hypocritical.

    The comments that Obama made were ill-advised in my opinion. Even though goverment provides infrastructure services that businesses use, those businesses have paid taxes to fund those services – goverment did not extend these services as ‘favours’ as such did they?

  8. Robert Allison says:

    I don’t follow you sis. I would agree if he had worn a rude t-shirt (and I have seen some rude ones). But how is it rude to indicate disagreement with a statement in a political speech? I am a believer in civility and respect for the office of president. I have been greatly dismayed by the horrible things that have been uttered (especially about George W. Bush and Barack Obama) by people I know and respect. But this t-shirt was totally appropriate political speech. It went to substance, it was germane to a recent comment by the president, and it was not insulting or demeaning. It was no different than if a member of the armed forces protested George Bush’s Iraq policy while collecting a military paycheck or if a waitress at a Romney campaign stop wore a “Keep your hands out of my Uterus” t-shirt while serving the Governor – both, totally appropriate.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I have to disagree. I have read Obama’s comments in context and listened to the original and it’s hard to hear what he said another way. I think it’s worse when you read the whole thing. My dad is a small business owner. Now he does very well and enjoys his work, but there were a lot of years where that was not the case. He still works very, very hard to make his business successful. He is deeply grateful for what he has and to people who helped him along the way. He is the most generous person I know, both with his time and his money. He pays his taxes and has served his local community in several roles. Obama’s statement was insulting and silly. Sure, we’ve all had some help from someone somewhere, but why is Obama taking away from people’s sacrifices and their hard work? Yes, they did build that. They took that risk. The fact that a small business owner is not enthusiastic about giving more money to an inefficient and bloated govt does not make him a bad person. It may be that he does not view paying higher taxes as the best way of giving back.

    Obama’s statement is not at all the same thing as Romney crediting families and communities. Romney is saying ‘You should be grateful and appreciate the support system that helped you reach your full potential’, and they absolutely should. Obama is saying ‘Because the govt took other people’s money and spent it building infrastructure that you used to some degree to build your business, govt deserves more of the money you make and if you don’t want to give it to us, you’re a selfish jerk who doesn’t want to give back. Also, lots of people are smart and work hard, so don’t think you did anything that special.’ He may very well feel this way, and he’s entitled to his opinion. But it’s probably not the best message to the demographic he desperately needs to start hiring people.

  10. S says:

    I agree that people are unbelievably naive about government.
    Do they travel on roads? Do they cross bridges? Do they use streetlights, sewer systems and water? Unless you’re running your business from off the grid somewhere, government is helping you.

  11. Jen says:

    @ Elizabeth and Clisby:

    “Obama taking away from people’s sacrifices and their hard work? Yes, they did build that. They took that risk. ”

    They built the roads? The electrical grid? The programs that allow students to go to college or technical schools to gain skills to start their own business? Really?

    It’s a purposeful misreading of what he said. It could it have been punctuated more clearly and surely pronoun-ed more clearly, but he was clearly delineating the difference between the parts of the business that someone builds themselves and the contributions that we all make, as a society, paid for by taxes, to enable businesses to run here.

    But, you know, I thought it was funny that Romney said, “I like firing people!” BUT, I could read the whole thing and realize what he meant (that firing bad employees isn’t a bad thing) and not spend a month or two insisting that he meant something different.

    Or you could say I have the “right” to misinterpret and willfully misunderstand his point, but I acted responsibly and didn’t.

  12. BelindieG says:

    ” sneaky of Mr. Murty to voluntarily accept money from a paying customer – any paying customer – in exchange for providing a service at a special event, but to then flagrantly attempt to undermine the whole point of the event for which he was being paid.”

    Why? First, he’s hardly being sneaky–you can’t miss that t-shirt. And the joy of living and working in the US is that we need not fall into lockstep with every official position of the ruling class or the politician currently in office. Yes, it might be tacky and ill-suited to the occasion, but that’s style, not substance. In other countries, in other times, this sort of display could get him sent to a gulag, his business seized by the government and his family fined, or worse.

    He was paid for his service, not for his loyalty to a regime.

  13. Trisha says:

    I completely agree with Obama’s comment on this point, I disagree with Murty’s position on this point, and I support Murty’s decision to wear this shirt. This is political speech and pretty respectful speech at that. (My first reaction: You wear a T-shirt to cater an event? Wouldn’t you at least have a collar? And then I see that he wore a collared shirt underneath. Nicely done, Mr. Murty. :) )

    Murty probably won’t get hired to cater a Democratic event again, but I bet he’ll have Republican business beating down his door. And that’s the way the market works.

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  16. You didn't get this! says:

    Obama is not being taken out of context!! He is saying that because government provided the opportunity the private citizen who is successful got lucky. Its the attitude about government that says government opportunity begets success, not that success begets growth of a civilization which begets the need for government to provide an opportunity to succeed. Its people, individual people first, not government. You’ve spread selective listening on to the next generation, including kids that aren’t your own!!! Shame on you!! This man was expressing his opinion as was his right and the real rudeness was Obama saying that without all the help that he got from the government (pretty presumptuous) that this man would not have been successful. Obama is the insult. You are the ill-informed and you’ve spread that on to young minds. Shame on you!!

  17. Clisby says:

    @Jen – Yes, I’m serious.

    “They built the roads? The electrical grid? The programs that allow students to go to college or technical schools to gain skills to start their own business? Really?”

    Who said that? This is what I meant when I said “completely banal.”

    Everybody – successful or not – benefits from those things. That’s just a given baseline. People who succeed did “build that”. The question is why Obama felt like he had to dismiss that.

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