The Washington Post

Romney: Context for me, but not for thee

Get this: At a press gaggle just now, Mitt Romney defended his gaffe this morning — in which he said he’s “not concerned about the very poor”— by pleading with reporters to look at the larger context of his remarks:

“No no no no. I — no, no. You’ve got to take the whole sentence, all right, as opposed to saying, and then change it just a little bit, because then it sounds very different,” said Romney. “I’ve said throughout the campaign my focus, my concern, my energy is gonna be devoted to helping middle income people, all right? We have a safety net for the poor in, and if there are holes in it, I will work to repair that. And if there are people that are falling through the cracks I want to fix that. “

You’ve got to take the whole sentence? Interesting. That rule did not apply when Romney personally approved an ad attacking Obama that lifted his words out of context in a hilariously dishonest way, implying that Obama said something about himself he’d actually attributed to a McCain adviser. The Romney campaign subsequently boasted about all the media attention the ad’s dishonesty earned.

Nor did Romney’s call for context apply when he blasted Obama for not believing in American exceptionalism by cherry-picking a line from an Obama speech in which the President actually did proclaim his belief that America is exceptional. Romney has a whole history of decontextualizing remarks.

By the way, it’s unlikely that Romney’s plea for context will do anything to quiet criticism of the gaffe, which is now being loudly voiced by conservatives, too. Erick Erickson, Jonah Goldberg and others on the right are all arguing that Romney has showcased his political ineptitude by offering Dems a comment that — even if taken out of context — plays perfectly into the Dem strategy of painting Romney as the candidate of the one percent. Not only that, but it’s also worth mentioning that in his comments, Romney confirmed that the Democratic Party does care about the poor.

Romney wasn’t really saying he doesn’t care about the poor, but the context still doesn’t help much. He seemed to be indicating that the plight of the poor isn’t all that worrisome because the safety net is doing such an adequate job in keeping them out of, well, poverty.

For all the talk about Romney’s “electability,” this episode shows that in reality, widespread and rampant doubts about his fitness for the general election are seething just below the surface among a surprisingly large number of conservative observers. Romney’s plea for context — in which he‘s basically asking the press to honor a standard of accuracy his own campaign has made a mockery of — won’t do anything to ally those doubts, either.


UPDATE: This is getting downright surreal. After Romney pleaded with reporters to acknowledge the context of his gaffe (see above), a Romney spokesperson then offered still more clarification:

“President Obama calls the plight of the unemployed ‘interesting.’ Mitt Romney calls it inexcusable.”

But in­cred­ibly, this, too, is out of context. The claim that Obama called the plight of the unemployed “interesting” is a reference to his comments to the wife of an unemployed man with an engineering degree at Monday’s Google + hangout.

There’s no denying that this was a brutal exchange for Obama. But a transcript of it shows he was not describing the “plight of the unemployed” as “interesting.” He was referring to this specific instance, noting that he was surprised that the man was having so much trouble getting work, because “the word we’re getting is that somebody in that kind of high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away.”

So to recap: Romney and his aides were against context (for the ad attacking Obama) before they were for it (for his own comments about the poor) before they were against it again (for Obama’s exchange with the engineer).

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.


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