Play the other parts of the speech, Alex
posted at 4:28 pm on July 24, 2012 by Libby Sternberg
Everybody expects to hear a candidate claim he was misunderstood when he says something stupid. So it’s no surprise to read that President Obama claims Mitt Romney’s campaign is taking the president’s “you didn’t build that” comment out of context.
To refresh memories, the president gave a speech at Roanoke, Virginia a couple weeks ago, wherein he made the point that successful businesspeople have had help in reaching their goals; they didn’t do it on their own.
The part of this comment that’s getting all the play has been repeated in ads and articles (including one by yours truly). This is the comment that the president claims was taken out of context:
If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
As many people have pointed out, the context of this remark just makes it all the more unappealing. One can argue that the “that” in the president’s comment didn’t refer specifically to “a business” but rather to infrastructure. One can argue that his premise—that we all receive help as we strive for success—is one most of us share.
But what you can’t argue—at least not with a straight face—is that the rest of the speech doesn’t prove the president’s flub was unintentionally what he meant to say.
The context of the speech proves the exact opposite, in fact, that the president has little regard for individual achievement, beyond a dismissive nod, and—in this very same speech— he sneered at individual achievement, mocking those who have “a business,” who built it with or without help, suggesting these folks are not nearly as smart or hard-working as they think they are, har-de-har-har.
Again, here are those lovely remarks earlier in his text:
[L]ook, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
Is it really too much to ask journalists who are covering this campaign moment to bother to read the whole speech? Can’t they be bothered to take at least a peek at it before they start mouthing off about how awful it is that Romney has resorted to distorting the president’s words?
I made the mistake of watching a bit of Alex Wagner’s Now program on MSNBC at midday, and she began her show by saying “politics is back in the mud pits” before launching into a discussion of this egregious distortion of the poor misunderstood president’s words. Her panel agreed with her. They included Time’s Mark Halperin, New York Magazine’s John Heilemann, and the Chicago Sun-Times’s Lynn Sweet.
Wagner started off her Clueless Confab by smirking that she was going to play the president’s comments in context every day this quote remained an issue. And then, of course, she only played the part she likes, not the jeering at successful businesspeople that preceded the president’s flub.
After that, it was pile-on time! Pile on the sympathy for the president, that is, who is so horribly, so terribly misunderstood, bwah-wah-wah:
Heilemann: I don’t disagree that the remarks are out of context, but they are keying in on a narrative that exists in the world, that is that the president is anti-business, doesn’t understand the economy. It is a fact if you go around and talk to small business owners, medium-sized business owners and large business owners, they do believe that. Now, they may be wrong, but that is a widespread view among people in the private sector, that the president is either hostile to business or clueless about business…. They (the president’s team) are right on the merits, on the context issue…
So, let’s review: the president mocks the smarts and hard work of businesspeople, then Mr. Heilemann finds–surprise, surprise– that small, medium and large business owners share the belief that the president doesn’t understand them. Nonetheless …they are wrong, according to Mr. Heilemann. That’s some high-level contextual analysis for you.
Meanwhile, Mr. Halperin decides to play the “they all do it” game, demonstrating his fairness by stating he dislikes these kinds of shenanigans, no matter which side is the one taking things “out of context.” He then goes on to tut-tut in agreement with Mr.. Heilemann’s thesis that the president is unfairly accused of not understanding the private sector:
Halperin: You know, the left spent a lot of time taking stuff Mitt Romney said out of context and now people on the left are complaining that the right is taking this out of context….When you accept the premise that you can take something out of context, as they did with Governor Romney… I was against that, I’m against this….The reason they (the president’s opponents) get traction is because they have that underlying misleading sound bite. As John said, this is a problem for the president. It may be an unfair accusation, about whether he understands how the private sector works, but it is a widely held view…
The prize in this pity party has to go to Ms. Sweet, however, for suggesting people have become nit-picky to a religious degree when analyzing such comments:
Sweet: It shows how hard it is even for somebody as experienced as Obama to create a sentence or a phrase or a paragraph that is parse-proof. You have campaigns looking at everything someone says Talmudically, where an inflection can become a campaign ad.
I’m presenting the entire dismal exchange below. The discussion goes beyond the “poor Mr. President” topic eventually to Mitt Romney’s Olympic records, which, I’m sure, provides a lot of “context” about the Republican nominee’s approach to governing. Be warned. MSNBC sometimes embeds an ad before these clips.
Recently in the Green Room: