That crazy Kenyan commie strikes again!

Conservatives are still going ape-scat over a comment President Obama made about business owners in a recent speech in Virginia. The offending passage: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Oh, my God, what a commie. He thinks an army of socialist elves came into your factory at night and piled your warehouse floor with inventory. Impeach now!

Of course, the comment really does look bad. Until you look at the context. Here’s more of the speech:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have 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. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

“The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.” [Italics mine]

Now, there are three possible interpretations of this. One is that President Obama really thinks you had nothing to do with building your business. Since he went to Harvard and shows no obvious signs of a recent lobotomy or Manchurian Candidate-style reprogramming, I think we can safely discard that one. Unless we’re children. But we are not children, are we? So let’s move on to possibility No. 2. (No offense to any children out there who may be reading this. I still feel bad that certain constitutional proscriptions and the prejudices of adults prevented you from running in the Republican presidential primaries this year and, however briefly, claiming frontrunner status.)

Possibility No. 2, posited by Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo, is that the “that” Obama was referring to indicated roads and bridges and other infrastructure. Now, granted, there’s a pronoun disagreement there. With the help of a good copy editor, this dustup could have been avoided. Had he changed “Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that” to something like “Somebody invested in roads and bridges. Individual business owners didn’t build them,” this would have been a non-issue. But hey, sometimes people aren’t as precise as they should be during casual conversation. (To me, the most relevant question here is, “Is our president learning?”)

Possibility No. 3 is that Obama simply misspoke and meant to say, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that by yourself.” Which, obviously, is true. Unless you’re God. You’re not God, are you? (I’ll give Newt Gingrich a bit longer to answer.)

So which of the above do you think is most likely? Very good.

So this isn’t really a gaffe. This is slightly muddled English deliberately taken out of context. Kudos, Republicans. You win this round. Ten minutes of extra recess for you.

Now, I’m aware that the last refuge of the scoundrel is often the claim that the media took you out of context. But there’s a difference between really being taken out of context (as above) and just claiming you were taken out of context because you said something monumentally stupid and want to avoid criticism.

For instance, if a football player says, “I hate NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. I want to fry his spleen like a chimichanga, put his head on a pike, kill his children, and sell their organs to elderly drunken arms merchants with hepatitis,” probably the best you can do is claim that the next sentence out of your mouth was, “Ha ha, just kidding. That guy’s cool.”

Similarly, if you say, “My wife drives a couple of Cadillacs,” that ineluctably leads one to the conclusion that your wife drives a couple of Cadillacs. The context can’t save you, unless your wife owns a car dealership or is working as a chauffer for someone even wealthier. And, really, there’s nothing wrong with having two Cadillacs if you can afford them, but it’s probably not the thing to say if you’re trying to make yourself seem more likable to laid-off autoworkers.

That, my friends, is a bona fide gaffe. What Obama said was not.

To be fair, Democrats also play this dishonest game.

For instance, in January 2011, after former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was tragically shot by a would-be assassin, some Democrats trotted out a map Sarah Palin had used to “target” House Democrats, including Giffords, who had voted for the health care bill.

Clearly, the map was a bit of Republican agitprop Palin was using to incite citizens to throw Giffords out of office, not to suggest she should be assaulted. A target is a fairly lurid and crass symbol, but it was likely effective. Which is probably why Democrats used it too.

So the context here shows us that there was nothing extraordinary or particularly egregious about what Palin did. And it was really a reach to suggest that it somehow influenced the gunman.

Now that was gotcha journalism, not asking her what newspapers she reads, which is only a “gotcha” question if the answer is, as I suspect, a lot closer to Weekly World News than The New York Times.

We can expect a lot more of this, of course. These days, the political silly season never ends. It just gets sillier and sillier.

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