Weeding through the BDN last Friday, I briefly thought Matthew Gagnon got something right when he wrote, “Context matters.” Unfortunately, his column tumbled downhill from there, but it’s that initial thought that proves so galling in this year’s political lie-fest. Primarily it’s the way Republican apparatchiks take video clips from President Obama’s speeches, twist them til they scream from distortion and then spend millions of the Koch brothers’ billions and Karl Rove’s Super PAC funds to hone the edits into an attack point for prime-time TV advertising.
The first (and some would say most blatant) example to hit the air was a corruption of an Obama speech given on October 18, 2008. Obama’s words were, “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’ll lose.’”
Gov. Romney’s folks reduced this to an ad with Obama saying, “If we talk about the economy, we’ll lose.” McCain’s campaign had said it, Obama quoted them in 2008, but the spin of Republican editing pretended Obama was saying it years later about himself.
Edit the truth hard enough, and you can create some astounding lies. A more recent example was derived from a July 13, 2012, Obama campaign rally in Roanoke, Va. Obama said: “If you were successful, someone along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Someone helped to create this unbelievable American system that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges — if you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Obama was saying our success depends in part on the supporting hard work of others. But the well-funded, widely distributed Republican TV ad reduced Obama’s words to: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that — somebody else made that happen.” And with that, the spinmeisters (like Mr. Gagnon) ran with the ad’s edit distortions, attempting to create an image of President Obama as some kind of anti-business monster. They portray him as putting down entrepreneurs and small-business owners, when all Obama was saying is, we are all in this together, we rely on the social structure and infrastructure to help our businesses succeed. Romney himself has said the same thing.
Or take this distortion of an Obama speech delivered in Oakland, Cal., on July 23. Obama said: “I’m 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 tried their plan [i.e., under Bush], we tried our plan [i.e., under Clinton] and it worked. That’s the difference. That’s the choice in this election.”
Republican edits cut Obama’s context to: “Just like we tried their plan, we tried our plan — and it worked.” The ad then slams Obama for saying today’s economy is doing just fine. In fact, he was referring to the economy of the Clinton years.
As a former newspaper editor I am disgusted and horrified by what Big Money is doing, in this campaign, to our American democracy. Disgusted by the advertising lies, and horrified by the political machinations happening off the airwaves as well. By lying about the dangers of voter fraud, they have engineered millions of poor and minority people off the voter rolls in states under Republican control. In Congress, Republican manipulations have frustrated Obama jobs bill proposals that would have put people back to work. Romney’s people, representing Big Money interests, are far more focused on lying to destroy the president than on cooperating to get America back to work.
Lee Witting is pastor of the Union Street Brick Church in Bangor, a columnist for the BDN Voices series, and a former publisher/editor of the Castine Patriot. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.