I Don’t Think You Know What “Out of Context” Means

By now, anyone who cares has seen the hidden-camera video of Mitt Romney speaking to a group of supporters at a $50,000-a-plate dinner/fundraiser in which he says some unkind things about 47 percent of America.

Mother Jones’ David Corn posted the video clips in drips and drops before releasing the entire thing. Here is a transcript, if you’d rather read it.

Interesting aside: Man, does the right wing hate Mother Jones. I can’t tell you how many pundits tried to imply that there was something suspect about this video because Mother Jones was the one to publish it.

After lumping nearly half of America into a class of moochers and freeloaders, Romney spoke about the Mideast peace process. Specifically, he said that a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine would not work and he didn’t believe Palestinians (again, lumping them all together) wanted peace so much as they wanted the destruction of Israel. So as president, he’d “kick the ball down the field” and hope something happened to change everything.

The night the video was released, Romney ducked out of another fundraiser to hold a quick press conference in which he said his off-the-cuff remarks were “inelegantly stated” but were pretty much how he feels. The next day Anne Romney claimed the video was taken out of context.

Now hold on. The video just shows Romney speaking to a group of rich supporters for a little over an hour. How is it out of context, exactly? I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.

Granted, the transcript includes a couple of minutes that aren’t on the video for some reason. In that missing segment, Romney talks more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

So, the only answer is show your strength. Again, American strength, American resolve, as the Palestinians someday reach the point where they want peace more than we’re trying to push peace on them—and then it’s worth having the discussion. Until then, it’s just wishful thinking.

I guess I don’t see how this helps all that much. It certainly doesn’t address Romney’s obvious disdain for the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income tax.

But this missing bit gave the Romney campaign the idea to send out an email titled: Today, The Obama Campaign Leveled False Attacks Against Mitt Romney Based On A Debunked And Selectively Edited Video.

Pardon me? How exactly was this video debunked? Maybe you’ve confused this video with that ACORN pimp video that James O’Keefe selectively edited. Or maybe you’re thinking about that Brietbart video that was selectively edited to show Shirley Sherrod bragging about not helping white farmers.

On Fox News, Romney attacked President Obama over a 1998 video showing the then-Illinois state representative talking about redistribution of wealth. Drudge ran a clip of the video, pulling a quote for his headline: “I actually believe in redistribution.”

But, when you look at what Obama actually said, it becomes clear what “out of context” really means:

Let me just close by saying, as we think about the policy research surrounding the issues that I just named, policy research for the working poor, broadly defined, I think that what we’re going to have to do is somehow resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all. There has been a systematic — I don’t think it’s too strong to call it a propaganda campaign against the possibility of government action and its efficacy. And I think some of it has been deserved. Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policymaking. And neither necessarily have been the Chicago Public Schools.

What that means, then, is, is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we’re all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative in thinking, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live? And my suggestion, I guess, would be that the trick — and this is one of the few areas where I think there are technical issues that have to be dealt with, as opposed to just political issues — I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.

So, you tell me, who was taken out of context?

Interesting aside: If Romney wants to start pulling 18-year-old video to attack Obama, there is plenty of old tape of Romney espousing all kinds of positions. At one time Romney was pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, said his opponents should release their tax returns and claimed to be to the left of Ted Kennedy.

I’ll give you another example. The very first ad produced by the Romney campaign (back when he was determined to win this election based on the lousy economy) shows President Obama in New Hampshire in 2008 saying “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” But the actual quote from the speech is much different:

 “Sen. McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.

So you tell me, who was taken out of context?

Incidentally, the Romney campaign stands by that ad, saying it was a case of “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” Since Obama used the economy to bash McCain, Romney is going to use it to bash Obama. That’s all well and good (and fair, I’d say). But the ad lacked that context. The ad just shows Obama saying the economy was going to lose him the election and that wasn’t what he was saying.

There are certain phrases you really only hear in political years. Does anyone other than a politician ever say “I misspoke?” Does anyone other than a political pundit ever bring up “false equivalency?”

I really detest that last one. Bringing it up just makes you sound like a wonk and when there’s so much anti-intellectualism on the right, using big words makes them shut down. It’s a shortcut to having everything else you say dismissed. The right doesn’t want to hear someone point out their false equivalency any more than they want to hear talk about quotes pulled out of context. They like to say those techniques are just SOP for political campaigns.

But they aren’t. They just aren’t.

On the Romney side we have: 1) If we keep talking about the economy we’ll lose. 2) You didn’t build that. 3)We tried our plan and it worked.  4) The private sector is doing fine. 5) I believe in redistribution.

On the Obama side we have: 1) I like being able to fire people (wait, that was during the primary and it was Republicans who attacked Romney over that) 2) I’m not concerned about the very poor. (Romney was attacked by pundits, but the quote doesn’t appear in any ads.) 3) Corporations are people, my friend (While Obama has used this line on the stump, no ad has used this quote).

Interesting aside: when I tried to Google “Obama ad misquotes Romney” Google suggested that what I meant to search was “Romney ad misquotes Obama.” When I tried the phrase “Obama ad takes Romney quote out of context” it suggested I try “Romney ad takes Obama quote out of context.”

So this isn’t a case of “a pox on both their houses.” There have been thousands of words written about the Romney camp’s use of out-of-context quotes. They built an entire night of their convention around “you didn’t build that.” As far as I can find, this technique is one-sided.

So when Romney claims that a video showing him denigrate the peace process and describe 47 percent of the American people as freeloaders who won’t take personal responsibility for their lives, claims of being taken out of context are just stupid and pathetic. Especially when Romney has demonstrated a real zeal for taking Obama’s quotes and twisting them like taffy.

I’m a political junkie. A presidential election year is like my SuperBowl. So my tolerance for backbiting, negative ads and a lack of substantive debate on important issues is quite high. But there is something really disgusting about the Romney campaign this year. It’s like facts don’t matter to them.

Take this whole “redistribution” brouhaha. Romney is for redistribution. He told Fox News that he isn’t, but if you look on his site, his tax plan is progressive. He says he believes in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. That’s redistribution, my friend. As Ezra Klein in the Washington Post puts it “It’s one thing to wildly misrepresent your opponent’s views, but to wildly misrepresent your own?”