“Barack Obama on the Economy”
— headline in a Romney campaign ad, followed by President Obama speaking:
“We tried our plan — and it worked. That’s the difference. That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term.”
Another day, another out-of-context quote?
Readers should be very wary of television ads showing a snippet of the opposing candidate speaking. There is often too much context missing.
Both campaigns have crossed the foul line in this regard (remember Mitt Romney supposedly saying he liked to fire people?) but this is the second week in a row we have had to examine how the Romney campaign is using one of the president’s quotes. Let’s take a look.
There is a dead giveaway here that something is missing: Why would Obama be bragging that his plan “worked” when the unemployment rate is still above 8 percent? That doesn’t sound like smart politics.
The reason for Obama’s statement becomes clear when the preceding sentences are read. (The section used in the ad is in bold type.) Remember that he is speaking to fellow Democrats at a fundraising event.
I’m running because I believe you can’t reduce the deficit — which is a serious problem, we’ve got to deal with it — but we can’t reduce it without asking folks like me who have been incredibly blessed to give up the tax cuts that we’ve been getting for a decade. I’ll cut out government spending that’s not working, that we can’t afford, but I’m also going to ask anybody making over $250,000 a year to go back to the tax rates they were paying under Bill Clinton, back when our economy created 23 million new jobs, the biggest budget surplus in history and everybody did well. Just like we’ve tried their plan, we tried our plan — and it worked. That’s the difference. That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term.
In other words, in an inelegant way, Obama is trying to compare Democratic philosophy (raise taxes on the wealthy — “our plan”) with Republican philosophy (don’t raise any taxes — “their plan”). He also appears to be trying to hitch his presidency to the economic success of the Clinton years. He can rightly argue that he’s never had a chance to do what Bill Clinton did — raise taxes on the wealthy — because Republicans have blocked his efforts.
But as we have repeatedly said, it is rather silly to think the economy can be divided into such neat presidential-term chunks.
Some would argue that some of the seeds for the disastrous economy at the end of George W. Bush’s term were planted during Clinton’s presidency (breaking down the walls between commercial and investment banks, for instance). Clinton also benefited from some luck — a surge in stock prices for technology companies in the mid-1990s. The bubble later burst, but not before significantly boosting federal revenue (and eliminating the deficit) with taxes on capital gains.
Thus, as an argument, Obama is really pushing the envelope in suggesting that the boom times of the Clinton era are directly attributable to Clinton’s tax increases. (We have already dinged Obama for suggesting in this passage that tax rates will be the same as under Clinton, since that’s not right.)
Still . . . the Romney ad starts off by claiming that Obama is talking about today’s economy. And then the ad is filled with comments from ordinary Americans about how they are suffering today.
Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom strongly defends the use of the clip. “Obama can’t have it both ways on this. He’s either running on the Clinton record, which is completely superior to his own,” he said. “Or Obama’s running on his record, which is a failure and why his campaign is now in the awkward position of saying the president was not referring to his own plans when he made the ‘it worked’ statement.”
The Pinocchio Test
It may well be disingenuous of Obama to wrap his policies in the mantle of Bill Clinton, but he was talking to a roomful of Democrats. We also make some allowances for awkward language uttered off the cuff, especially if it appears to be a one-time statement. (The Romney campaign did not supply any other examples of Obama claiming his economic plan worked.)
In any case, the Romney campaign clearly ripped these words out of context, leaving them untethered from their original meaning — in order to score political points in a highly misleading way. Obama was not talking about today’s economy, but about different philosophies of taxation.
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