Mitt Romney has just come out with his first TV spot. It’s a doozy. But for whom?
In its eagerness to point out that the economy is not the president’s strong point, the ad somewhat overshoots. It offers up audio of Barack Obama saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”
The one problem? Obama is quoting someone else — specifically, a McCain aide from the 2008 campaign.
I miss Rick Perry’s ads already. They gave me several seizures and I mailed $20 to Michael Bay from sheer force of habit after watching their flurry of pulse-pounding cuts, but at least they did the quoting right.
This is not how you do it. In a particularly damning piece in the New Yorker online, Ryan Lizza noted, “If a journalist or writer quoted someone in such an intellectually dishonest way, you would never trust the person’s writing again.”
The ad certainly establishes a dangerous precedent. This isn’t even taking quotes out of context. This is taking other people’s quotes out of context.
Next we’ll unearth footage of Barack Obama quoting others in speeches — “As Franklin Roosevelt said, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ ” — and all hell will break loose. We’ll be bombarded with ads declaring that “If Obama thinks fear itself is the only thing we have to fear, he must not be paying enough attention to the economy.”
People often tell me I quote too often, but I had no idea that I was going to be held accountable for all the borrowed quips. After all, “Next to being witty oneself, the best thing is to quote another’s wit.” I didn’t say that. Christian Nevell Bovee did. But it won’t matter to Mitt Romney. Now we quoters are going to have to suffer.
“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” “President opposed to second amendment,” Romney ads boom. “Give me liberty or give me death.” “We told you that he favored death panels!” “Rosebud.” “Mrs. Obama’s gardening initiative has gotten out of hand.”
This is yet another of those things that makes me worry that Mitt Romney does not understand how talking works. That might explain some of his awkwardness before, actively struggling to work weak jokes like “There’s no place like chrome for the Hollandaise” into conversation. But I had no idea it went so deep.
“But he said it,” he says. “The words came out of his mouth. That’s how saying works. And when you say a thing, it’s a quote.”
“Ah, but he was quoting someone else when he said it. You see, if Barack Obama were to say, ‘Hey, I’m Thomas Jefferson,’ that wouldn’t mean that —”
But it is too late. Mitt Romney is already releasing an ad that says JEFFERSON? I THINK NOT.
I track him down again. “See, Mitt, when people talk, sometimes they repeat phrases that they have heard from others, not because they believe them, just to show what the other person said. And they put quotes around those phrases, and they aren’t accountable for what is said in them, and it’s considered a low blow to use them in your ads.”
“So I can just say, quote, Rick Perry is stupid and when he smiles he looks like SpongeBob, quote, and it’s fine?”
“No, if you make the quote up yourself, it’s just a thing you’ve said.”
“Quote, what? Quote quote,” Romney splutters. Then an aide comes running in and wheels Romney away, the candidate’s spine glowing in frustration.
“Quotation,” I mutter. “A thing somebody said that seemed to make sense at the time.”
I didn’t say that. Leonard Louis Levinson did. Not that it makes much difference in the ads.
It’s one thing to hold people accountable for what they actually said. But it’s another to hold them accountable for things they’ve quoted. If people ever start doing that, I will have Oscar Wilde’s entire life to answer for.