When context isn’t king


In Mitt Romney’s very first television ad of the 2012 campaign, released in November, the Republican blatantly deceived the public. In 2008, Barack Obama quoted John McCain’s campaign, but the Romney camp took Obama’s line, wrenched it from context, and misled voters.

It was a cheap, deceitful move. It was also, apparently, a sign of things to come – the Romney camp pushed this video fairly aggressively yesterday.

To hear the Romney campaign tell it, this is proof that President Obama has flip-flopped – or at a minimum, contradicted himself – on public-sector employment. But this is only true if you once again take the words out of context.

We see two quotes: the first is Obama last week, highlighting “weaknesses in our economy” that “have to do with state and local government” laying off public-sector workers. The second is Obama in May noting, “The only time government employment has gone down during a recession has been under me.”

In its press release, the Romney campaign argued yesterday that the president “said the real weakness in the economy was state and local government employment – yet a month earlier, he touted the fact that government employment had fallen on his watch.”

If the Romney camp actually believes this, it’s time to consider the possibility that the GOP campaign is much less intelligent than is generally believed. Put it this way: does the Republican’s media team know what “touted” means?

Here’s what Obama actually said in May:

“Just about every time we put these policies up for a vote, the Republicans in Congress got together and they said no. They said no to putting hundreds of thousands of construction workers back on the job repairing our roads and our bridges and our schools and our transit systems. No to a new tax cut for businesses that hire new workers. No to putting more teachers back in our classrooms, more cops back on the beat, more firefighters back to work. And this is at a time when we know one of the biggest drags on our economy has been layoffs by state and local governments – that’s true all across the country.

“And it’s worth noting, by the way – this is just a little aside – after there was a recession under Ronald Reagan, government employment went way up. It went up after the recessions under the first George Bush and the second George Bush. So each time there was a recession with a Republican President, compensated – we compensated by making sure that government didn’t see a drastic reduction in employment.

“The only time government employment has gone down during a recession has been under me. So I make that point just so you don’t buy into this whole bloated government argument that you hear. And frankly, if Congress had said yes to helping states put teachers back to work and put the economy before our politics, then tens of thousands more teachers in New York would have a job right now. That is a fact. And that would mean not only a lower unemployment rate, but also more customers for business.”

Obama wasn’t “touting” the fact that government employment had fallen on his watch; he was criticizing the factor that has held back economic growth. The Romney campaign sees a contradiction between the May and June quotes from the president, but the context obviously shows the two comments are making the same argument.

This isn’t a close call. BuzzFeed conceded yesterday the Romney campaign took Obama “wildly out of context.”

So, here’s a question to ponder: did the Romney camp deliberately try to deceive reporters and the public, or is the Romney camp so confused by the basics of economics and jobs policy that it didn’t realize the two Obama quotes are complementary?

Mitt Romney

When context isn't king